Her message came as Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) members at the two colleges voted strongly in favour of industrial action if the proposed amalgamation goes ahead.
Of academic staff who voted, 84% at Institute of Technology Tralee (ITT) and 92% at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) agreed to back industrial action up to strike action if the colleges proceed with a merger despite their opposition.
While TUI officers claim there has been a lack of consultation on the plans, the union’s main opposition is to the national policy about technological university (TU) applications, which has yet to be enshrined in legislation. Higher Education Authority (HEA) rules announced in 2012 say that an application can only be made by an entity formed by the merger of at least two institutes.
CIT and ITT had proposed last summer to formally merge in August 2016, ahead of a final full application for TU status in 2017 or 2018. The international experts who assessed their submission suggested in December that they speed up the merger.
However, the governing bodies said after separate meetings last week they would stick to the original timescale. They said staff had been, and would continue to be, consulted throughout the process as they prepare for an application to form a Munster Technological University (MTU).
Ms O’Sullivan expects to publish and have passed by summer the bill establishing a TU sector.
However, she said the criteria on the requirement to merge was made clear before any of the four combinations of colleges to have expressed an interest in applying to form a TU did so.
She told the Dáil education committee on Wednesday that there was a requirement on the MTU colleges to ensure they worked together, merged, and moved on to the next stage.
“We’re keeping watch on it obviously in the department and want to ensure that there are no obstacles. But again, the institutions do need to engage with their own membership, their own staff...and with the HEA.”
She expects a report within weeks from HEA ex-chairman, Michael Kelly, on his efforts on her behalf to get a planned TU project for the south-east back on track, after Waterford Institute of Technology withdrew from talks on a merger with IT Carlow.
Many senior WIT figures believe it stands a better chance of achieving TU status alone despite the merger rules.
“The problem I have with this is that there seems to be a perception that someone outside it is going to make this happen for them,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
“They have to make it happen for themselves...And simply sitting back and saying we can’t do it is not going to achieve anything for anybody.”
A fourth TU campaign began this week when an expression of interest was submitted to the HEA by institutes of technology in Galway-Mayo, Letterkenny, and Sligo.
Three institutes in Dublin are involved in the most advanced TU application proposal.
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