The creation of the Munster Technological University, merging Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Tralee is being rightly hailed as an important development for the South-west, both in educational terms and in the impact it is expected to have on the region’s economy.
The new MTU will come into effect on January 1, 2021, after a draft ministerial order has been approved by both the Oireachtas which will also see the dissolution of both Cork IT and IT Tralee.
That will be exactly two years since the creation of TU Dublin, Ireland’s first technological university that merged Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), IT Tallaght, and IT Blanchardstown. It is already the country’s biggest third-level institution, with 28,000 students.
When MTU formally opens the doors of its three campuses in Cork and Tralee, it will mark the end of a long process.
The project has spent years in planning, experiencing several setbacks along the way. There have also been fears that such mergers are little more than a cost-cutting exercise and that courses in one campus would be cut, forcing students to travel to one of the others.
Those fears were not without merit as the Hunt report in 2011 advanced the creation of TUs, both as a way of merging smaller institutions to become centres of excellence and as a cost-saving measure.
The fact that the merger is to go ahead suggests that most of these fears have abated and that the advantage of university status far outweighs any concerns over rationalisation.
The creation of MTU is arguably the most significant development in university education outside Dublin since the establishment in 1845 of three Queen’s Colleges in Cork, Galway and Belfast.
The purpose of those colleges was “to supply the want, which has been long felt in Ireland, of an improved academical education equally accessible to all classes of the community without religious distinction”.
This time round, the purpose is to recognise the growing need for universities to conduct research with a focus on industry. It is also increasingly evident that coronavirus is accelerating the adoption of education technology, as both students and parents are looking for alternatives ways to continue with the education process.
While the creation of MTU is welcome, focus should now shift to IT Carlow and Waterford Institute of Technology.
The people of Waterford, in particular, feel the city warrants a university because of its size, its cultural heritage, and its economic dominance of the south-east.
There has also been a push for the merger of Sligo IT, Galway-Mayo IT, and Letterkenny IT to form a technological university serving the West and North-west.
The Taoiseach is optimistic for the future of the new university, forecasting that it “will be a driver of regional development, and it will help to make higher education more accessible”.
We hope he is proved right, wish it every success and trust that, in common with Trinity College Dublin’s motto declared in 1592: perpetuis futuris temporibus duraturam, “it will last into endless future times”.