Munster's newest technological university will play a key role in driving the recovery of the region post-Covid, while improving access to education.
That is according to Dr Barry O'Connor, president of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) who was speaking as the long-awaited Munster Technological University (MTU) was approved yesterday.
The MTU will see CIT and Institute of Technology, Tralee (ITT) merge and become a single institution. When it is formally established next January, the MTU will become the first technological university (TU) in Munster, the second university in Cork, and the first university in Kerry.
"It's a very exciting time not only for Cork but also for the whole region, and the country generally," said Dr O'Connor, adding that the Covid-19 shutdown has highlighted education inequality.
"It's shown the inequity in access to education. Be it that some students can't afford laptops, or that they have the laptop but the broadband is rubbish. Our plan is to be leading that change. Dublin needs a counterbalance, and the logical place for that is Cork and the south-west."
This is a time of unprecedented challenge for the region, Ireland, and the world, according to Dr Brendan O’Donnell, president of ITT. "The MTU will play a leadership role in the strategic development of the south-west region as we work towards national and global recovery."
The development of technological universities is part of the national strategy restructuring higher education. Two or more institutes of technology may jointly seek such a designation.
The MTU project has encountered setbacks along the way. Last year, a decision on its TU status was postponed after an independent panel raised concerns over several aspects of its bid.
However, both institutes worked hard and overcame challenges to meet the stipulated conditions, according to Education Minister Joe McHugh. There is also a deep commitment to ensuring staff can flourish in their research activity, according to Mary Mitchell O'Connor, the Minister of State for Higher Education.
Both CIT and ITT have been "bedrocks of innovation" while maintaining valuable partnerships with industry, according to TD Colm Burke, who also welcomed the news.
Helen Leahy, of employers' group Ibec, said: "A thriving business community is directly linked to a strong education and research infrastructure."
Meanwhile, Dr Des Fitzgerald, president of the University of Limerick (UL), has announced he is to end his term this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a letter to UL chancellor Mary Harney, he said: "Unfortunately this virus will directly impact my ability to serve the university and limit my ability to fully engage once we get our community back onto the campus.”