Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) opposition to various aspects of the bill published 18 months ago to underpin a TU sector had led to an impasse that meant the legislation had stalled.
But Education Minister Richard Bruton is expected to amend the Technological Universities Bill after a 74% vote in favour of the agreement. Just over 40% of TUI’s 4,000 members in the IoT sector, and therefore eligible to vote, took part in the ballot.
The deal is particularly significant for two consortia closest to a formal application to be designated as TU. These are the Munster Technological University project - Cork and Tralee institutes of technology - and the Technological University for Dublin Alliance, comprising Dublin Institute of Technology and the IoTs in Blanchardstown and Tallaght.
A key concession to the TUI is that the previous pre-condition that two or more IoTs must complete a merger before applying to become a TU has been removed. Instead, a merger would only happen on the same date as an approved designation as a technological university.
The deal also assures existing staff they will not be reassigned to another college or campus within a TU unless procedures to do so are agreed, and increased academic staff representation will be provided on governing bodies.
The Department of Education gave a commitment before the ballot that, subject to political approval, these and other aspects of the deal would be worked into amendments to the bill.
“The exact timetable for enactment of the legislation will be finalised once the amendments are prepared and the legislation can be introduced,” the department told the Irish Examiner.
The bill was published in December 2015 by previous minister Jan O’Sullivan but TUI opposition meant it has not yet progressed to committee stage. Fianna Fáil education spokesperson Thomas Byrne said party leader Micheál Martin has told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar it can and should be passed by the end of July.
Although they are publicly committed to merging and to apply for TU status, Carlow and Waterford institutes of technology have many obstacles to clear before being ready to formally apply to establish a Technological University of the South East. WIT suspended merger talks in late 2014 and the process only resumed after a number of outside interventions.