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.