The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has lodged a dispute against Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and Institute of Technology Tralee (ITT) with the Labour Relations Commission (LRC), in the row around the issue of their intended joint application to create a Munster Technological University (MTU).
TUI assistant general secretary Aidan Kenny said any move to change the status quo while the matter was in dispute, by merging the two colleges, would trigger industrial action. The ballot that would authorise such action is to be sent out to the union’s 800 academic staff members at CIT and ITT in the next few weeks, after local consultations on the form it should take.
The criteria for becoming a technological university (TU) were set out in 2012 by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), and require two or more institutes of technology to merge before a final application can be made.
Mr Kenny said TUI members would prefer a TU model like the National University of Ireland, to which institutions could affiliate individually if they meet all criteria.
“We don’t see any reason or academic rationale for the HEA pushing for mergers. It’s solely about rationalisation, cost-saving and efficiencies,” he said.
A spokesperson for the MTU project said CIT and ITT are committed to third-level reforms advocated by national policy.
“Both CIT and ITT are available to engage with the TUI on the ongoing technological university process as has been our practice since this project commenced. The creation of technological universities, not just in Munster...creates an unprecedented opportunity for the institutes involved,” he said.
In the Dáil, Cork North-West TD Michael Moynihan (FF) asked Ms O’Sullivan to meet the TUI, and ensure the HEA and the governing bodies of CIT and ITT also did.
She said it might not be appropriate for her to meet the TUI, given that a claim had been lodged with the LRC, but she will think about what assistance her department could give.
“The criteria were always very clear from the very start, in terms of the various stages of the process, the bars that you had to reach to get from one stage to the next. And I don’t think any of the institutes were in doubt that that was the process,” she said.
“There is, and has been, wide consultation. The HEA is dealing with the issue directly with the institutions,” she said.
Sinn Féin education spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien said she failed to deal with the core issue of institutes of technology having to merge with no guarantee of achieving TU status.
“We could have a merged entity which is awaiting designation as a technological university and it may fail to meet the very strict criteria,” he said.
Earlier, independent Waterford TD John Halligan said he believed the requirement for mergers before technological universities can be formed was a fob to voters in several regions of the country.
He was critical of the lack of progress on a proposed TU for the South-East, where Waterford Institute of Technology withdrew from merger talks with IT Carlow in October.