Towards a Technology University

Towards a Technology University:

Where the four consortia are and where they need to get to?

Last week, I had a good meeting with Dr. Brendan MacCormack and Ms. AnneMarie MacCormack, both of whom are based at the Institute of Technology, Sligo. It was our first meeting, therefore the discussion was much explorative, but the main purpose was to talk about the Connacht-Ulster Alliance (CUA) achieving Technological University (TU) status and benefiting students and the West/North-West region as a whole.

The CUA, launched in July 2012, is a strategic partnership of three IoTs in the Connacht-Ulster region including Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), the Institute of Technology, Sligo (IT Sligo) and Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT). On March 4, 2015, the CUA submitted a formal Expression of Interest to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) for the re-designation as a TU, which is the first of four stages in the process leading to the establishment of a TU.

The idea of Technological Universities was introduced as part of a framework for reform within the Irish higher education landscape, following publication of the National Strategy for Higher Education in January 2011. The designation process consists of four stages as follows: an expression of interest, the preparation of a plan to meet the criteria, an evaluation of the plan and an application for designation.

Besides the CUA, there are at the moment three more consortia seeking TU status and leading the CUA in terms of progress.

The creation of a technological university in Dublin under the TU4Dublin bid involves three institutions namely Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown (ITB) and Institute of Technology, Tallaght (ITT), while the Munster TU project involves a merger of Cork Institute of Technology and the Institute of Technology Tralee (IT Tralee). These two consortia have completed the third stage and are now in the final stage.

What is a more complex case is the TU for the South East region consisting of a consortium of two institutions: the Institute of Technology, Carlow (ITC) and Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT).

The TU for the South East region consortium, after making good progress since its launch in 2011, encountered a series of challenges and failed to finalise a plan for the second stage, with WIT making the decision to suspend the proposed merger in October 2014. As reported by the Irish Independent, the main reason for WIT to end the talks was its concern about “how long it would take IT Carlow to meet the criteria necessary for technology university status”.

The proposal of WIT applying for designation as a university on its own was rejected by the Government which is committed to a multi-campus university of the South East region. In November 2014, Michael Kelly, former secretary of the Department of Health, was appointed by Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan to reinvigorate the merger process. Meanwhile, following the controversy over the merger, Donie Ormonde, then Waterford IT chairman, stepped down, while Dr. Ruaidhri Neavyn, then president of WIT, was seconded to the HEA and replaced by Prof. Willie Donnelly in April 2015.

Despite the effort from the Government, the Irish Examiner reported earlier this week that Michael Kelly “has failed to broker agreement between Carlow and Waterford institutes of technology on merging to assist a possible creation of a university in the south-east”, following his report to Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan being brought to the Cabinet last week.

In the CUA’s Expression of Interest report, the profile of the institutions was compared against the TU criteria as defined by the Government. I asked Dr. MacCormack what would be the biggest challenge for the CUA to get to where it needs to get to, and was told it would be the number of research students including Master research students and PhD students.

Our discussion was then more focused on what it means to have a TU in the region. Indeed, it might be expected that all the four consortia will meet the requirements set out by the Government by the time, sooner or later, they will become Technological Universities. To what extent a TU differs from a ‘normal’ university and would that difference matter in policy and practice remain the key questions to be answered.


Bounce Back: Economic Resilience of Irish Regions (Part 1/2)

Earlier this week, I attended a public lecture given by Professor Ron Martin from the University of Cambridge. Organised by the Department of Geography, School of Natural Sciences, the lecture was one of a series of public lectures by distinguished international lecturers in Geography. Professor Martin, in the lecture which was titled ‘Shocking Aspects of Regional Development: The Economic Geographies of Resilience’, explained the idea of resilience and focused on how to measure regional resilience during recessionary shocks using the cases of the UK and European regions.

Inspired by his lecture, I was wondering how regions in Ireland reacted to and recovered from the economic shocks in the history. It would make the analysis much more comprehensive if all the historical data of employment and income at the regional level was available. For instance, in Ireland the 1980s has been considered to be one of the state’s bleakest time, with high unemployment and mass emigration. Unfortunately, the data of employment at the regional level was only available back to the first quarter of 1998, according to the CSO Statbank Database. Still, the data collected by the CSO enables a close examination of how regions in Ireland were affected by the 2008 financial crisis, which is the focus of this blog.

Figure 1. Growth and recessionary shocks in employment in Ireland, quarterly, 1998(1)-2015(1), NUTS 2

Growth and recessionary shocks in employment in Ireland, quarterly, NUTS 2

Source: CSO.

Figure 1 shows how employment (persons aged 15 years and over) in the two NUTS 2 regions of Ireland has changed during the first quarter of 1998 and the first quarter of 2015. Although the two regions seem to show similar patterns of rise and fall in employment, there are some differences between them. Between the first quarter of 1998 and the third quarter of 2007, when the employment in both regions peaked, it was the so-called BMW region that outperformed its more advanced Southern and Eastern region counterpart in employment growth, which may partly reflect the Irish government’s increasing focus on a more balanced regional development from the late 1990s. Nevertheless, both regions witnessed significant growth in employment during this period.

Then came the 2008 financial crisis and followed the recession. In both regions, the employment had been constantly decreasing for 18 quarters from the third quarter of 2007 until the first quarter of 2012. Specifically, the employment index of the BMW region dropped from its peak at 155.7 to 127.7 over this period, while the index of the Southern and Eastern region declined from 142.9 to 121.3.

Table 1. Persons aged 15 and over in employment (000s) by NUTS 2, 1998(1)-2015(1)

Phase 1: Growth
1998Q1 357.5 1128.4
2007Q3 556.8 1612.8
🔺1998Q1-2007Q3 199.3 484.4
%1998Q1-2007Q3 55.7% 42.9%
Phase 2: Recession
2007Q3 556.8 1612.8
2012Q1 456.4 1368.7
🔺2007Q3-2012Q1 -100.4 -244.1
%2007Q3-2012Q1 -18.0% -15.1%
Phase 3: Recovery
2012Q1 456.4 1368.7
2015Q1 481.7 1447.8
🔺2012Q1-2015Q1 25.3 79.1
%2015Q1-2015Q1 5.5% 5.8%

Source: CSO.

Table 1 compares the employment performance of the two regions in the three different phases, namely growth (1998Q1-2007Q3), recession (2007Q3-2012Q1) and recovery (2012Q1-2015Q1). In general, the BMW region showed higher growth in the first phase, but was more heavily hit during the second phase, and exhibited a slower recovery in the third phase. Its Southern and Eastern region counterpart shows relatively stronger resilience in the face of the 2008 financial crisis and slightly faster recovery from the shock in the recent years.

Figure 2. Growth and recessionary shocks in employment in Ireland, quarterly, 1998(1)-2015(1), NUTS 3

image (12) (1)

Source: CSO.

Figure 2 shows how employment (persons aged 15 years and over) in the eight NUTS 3 regions of Ireland has changed during the whole period. It, in comparison to Figure 1, reveals more comprehensively the reaction and recovery of localities in the country. Table 2 below compares the duration of the recession in each of the eight regions, i.e. the period of time between when the employment peaked and when the employment declined to the lowest point.

Table 2. Duration of the recession, NUTS 3

Start End Duration
South-West 2007Q3 2011Q1 14 quarters
Midland 2007Q3 2011Q3 16 quarters
South-East 2007Q4 2012Q1 17 quarters
Dublin 2007Q3 2012Q1 18 quarters
Border 2007Q3 2012Q4 21 quarters
Mid-East 2007Q3 2013Q3 24 quarters
Mid-West 2007Q2 2014Q1 27 quarters
West 2007Q3 2015Q1 30 quarters

Source: CSO.

A clear message from Table 2 is that the Irish regions differ significantly in terms of how long it takes for them to go through the recession. South-West was the region in Ireland that got out of the recession earliest (14 quarters), followed closely by the Midland, South-East and Dublin regions. Relatively, the Border, Mid-East, Mid-West and West faced more difficulties with the recession and started their recovery later than the rest of the country.

Given that Ireland is a relatively small country, it is noteworthy that there still exists significant differences in the resilience of regions. The determinants of regional resilience are complex and could be examined from various perspectives, one of which could be the industrial structures of different regions.

(To be continued)