Institutes of technology discuss possible mergers across sector

A NUMBER of institutes of technology are already discussing possible mergers which are to be urged in the long-awaited higher education strategy being published this morning.

The four Dublin colleges in the Institute of Technology (IoT) sector have already announced they are considering a joint application to be recognised together as a technological university. But the Irish Examiner understands a number of the other IoTs have held preliminary talks about joining forces, with various combinations being examined.

For example, Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) is believed to have had initial talks with IT Tralee before changing its focus for a merger with Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT). CIT and WIT both have applications on hold in the Department of Education to be renamed universities, although CIT’s proposal is to become a technological university.

The rebranded technological universities would offer some reduced costs through centralised administration, services, finance and human resources, but it is uncertain what degree of rationalisation would take place in terms of reducing duplication of courses across campuses.

Possible amalgamations believed to be under discussion include Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) and IT Tralee (ITT), or LIT and Carlow IT, and talks are understood to have taken place between the IoTs in Galway-Mayo, Sligo and Athlone.

LIT is already positioned for a merger with Tipperary Rural and Business Development Institute, despite the 2009 recommendation of An Bord Snip Nua the Tipperary college be abolished, following a Cabinet decision last June.

The importance of such moves was highlighted in a memo last November to all staff of ITT by its president, Michael Carmody, who wrote that the college’s interests would be best served within a strong Technological University rather than as a standalone IoT.

“It is essential that ITT, like other IoTs in the sector, actively engage in exploring options for the future with potential partners. However, until such time as the report is published and the Government’s view of the strategy known, such talks are on a tentative level,” he wrote in the memo seen by the Irish Examiner.

The report of the Review Group on Higher Education, chaired by economist Colin Hunt, will be published by Tánaiste and Education Minister Mary Coughlan in Dublin today.

The main debate around the report is expected to focus on its recommendation for increased student contributions to the cost of their college degrees, which would end the free tuition scheme in place since the mid-1990s. It is believed the Hunt report suggests undergraduates would have a choice of whether to pay up front or be offered a loan covering the costs, to be paid back when they pass a certain earning threshold.

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