Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 6 November 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills
Letterkenny Institute of Technology: Chairperson Designate
We are now moving on to No. 2 on our agenda, which is engagement with the chairperson designate of the Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Mr. Fintan Moloney. I am conscious that Mr. Moloney has to get a flight later today. The purpose of the meeting is to engage with Mr. Moloney in advance of his proposed reappointment as chairman of the governing body of the Letterkenny Institute of Technology. This is an opportunity for the committee to discuss his vision and his priorities in the short and medium term and any challenges facing the institute. On behalf of the committee I welcome him. I ask him to make a brief statement and members will then have the opportunity to engage with him.
I wish to draw Mr. Moloney's attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence.
I advise witnesses that any opening statement made will be published on the committee's website after the meeting.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Mr. Moloney to make his opening statement.
Mr. Fintan Moloney:
A Chathaoirleach agus Baill Choiste an Oireachtas, gabhhaim buiochas libh as an deis seo a thabhairt dom labhairt libh inniu. I thank the Chairman and committee members for giving me the opportunity to address them. I have provided a summary of my career to date, with particular reference to the five years to 30 September 2018, during which I acted as chairperson of the governing body of Letterkenny Institute of Technology which is known as LYIT. I have been involved in the financial sphere since graduating from UCD in 1974 with a degree in economics. Having spent 16 years with the Revenue Commissioners, the last of which was as district inspector of taxes for County Donegal, in 1989 I commenced a taxation and financial consultancy business which continues to this day. I remind the committee that the Revenue Commissioners have given me eight more days to get in all of the tax returns, given that the deadline date is 14 November. Working with my 65 colleagues in Revenue's office gave me great experience of people management and highlighted the importance of leadership attributes such as empathy, time management, the art of listening, judgment evaluation and decisive decision-making.
Having been distant from the education sector for a considerable time, my appointment to the challenging position of LYIT chairperson required a considerable learning curve at a time when the country was in the throes of recession and funding for education or anything else was hardly extant. However, my prior financial experience stood to me in those difficult years when the college's reserves were dissipating rapidly and a red line in the sand had to be grappled with. The reality at the time was that our institute, which is based on campuses in Letterkenny and Killybegs, was going to run out of money in the short term. Reserves are never limitless. Thankfully, matters have improved and funding has become available, particularly for the Killybegs campus, for which some €3 million has been approved, to be drawn down over four years. LYIT is the first institute to come out of deficit following the crash. Growth in student numbers has also had a positive impact on our financial viability. In the past five years total student numbers have grown by 24%, from 3,493 to 4,316, with the part-time cohort showing a significant increase of 94%, from 626 to 1,215 today. The non-EU international student numbers have grown from one five years ago to 135 today. They come mainly from India, Malaysia and China, among other places.
LYIT has many exciting projects in the pipeline, including a €20 million public private partnership project which is to commence in 2020. Submissions have been made under the rural regeneration fund to the Department of Rural and Community Development for an ocean innovation centre in Killybegs, while a joint application involving LYIT, Donegal ETB, Donegal County Council and Údarás has been made to the climate action fund. An application involving LYIT, the University of Ulster and Queens University has also been made under the INTERREG programme for a share of the €30 million available.
Our greatest challenge in the short term is achieving technological university status in partnership with Sligo Institute of Technology and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT. Last month funding of €1.8 million was secured to progress the application of the Connacht-Ulster Alliance, CUA. Work is ongoing to satisfy the criteria set out in Chapter 9 of the Technological Universities Act 2018, under section 28(1)(a) of which, LYIT already satisfies the 30% test, with a figure of 51% confirmed. Work is continuing in assessing the current position on the criteria set out in section 28(1)(b) and (c) and a report will be concluded by the CUA project manager by the end of November.
Our collaboration north of the Border continues. Last April the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, announced the establishment of a cross-Border further and higher education cluster involving LYIT, the Ulster University, the North West Regional College and Donegal ETB. The initiative has recently secured funding from the Higher Education Authority to enhance its activity and continue its work in the context of implementation of the national development plan.
This year the institute has come through an institutional review carried out by Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI. It involved QQI personnel meeting staff, students, governing body members and external shareholders from industry and other spheres of public life. QQI is processing our application for approval of a level 10 course in computing and success is anticipated by the end of the year. A similar application will be made in 2019 for the school of business, which will obviously have an impact in meeting the criteria to achieve TU status.
I acknowledge the dedication and fortitude of all LYIT staff, together with governing body members and sub-committees, in pursuing the best interests of the college during its very difficult recent history.
On LYIT moving out of the red, I am curious to know from where the majority of funding has come to put it in a better position. Was it all HEA and departmental funding or was it from non-EU students or for research and development? What is the breakdown in that regard?
Mr. Fintan Moloney:
It is a mixture of all of those sources. The position is that, with our five year development plan, the campus in Killybegs will not wash its own face, that is, it will not cover the costs associated with it. For the campus in Letterkenny, the position is positive, but, obviously, while the funds can be used to offset the deficit in Killybegs, they are not sufficient. In the next couple of years we will have €750,000 per annum which will help to balance the books, but we will have to look for more funding in that regard. In the intervening period the growth in student numbers, in particular, the number of international students, has had a significant impact. That is where we are concentrating to bring in additional revenue.
On the growth in funding, how does Mr. Moloney feel about the lack of a follow-up on the Cassells report? This committee has been awaiting a technical report from the Department which we have not yet received. It is as if people are wishing it would all go away. What would Mr. Moloney like to see happen in being able to put LYIT in a position where both campuses will be functioning and the situation progressing, rather than simply being maintained?
Mr. Fintan Moloney:
That is a pertinent question. It is almost two and a half years since the Cassells report was published, yet it is still sitting on the sidelines. I know that the new Minister for Education and Skills has not had time to consider it, given the ongoing construction issues. However, the former Minister said it would not be looked at until 2019. Perhaps it might be kicked even further into touch. It feels as if it is another report that will gather dust. There are three aspects that concern how third level education should be funded. I would like to see a situation where all students from all walks of life - we can mention the programme for access to higher education, PATH, in that context - would be able to access third level education without fees, but, of course, from where would the money come?
To clarify, as a committee, we engaged with 40 stakeholders to provide recommendations in the context of the Cassells report. As Senator Ruane pointed out, we felt an economic evaluation was needed of the impact on students and their families and the State. That is the report we are awaiting before we issue our final recommendations.
I welcome Mr. Moloney and compliment him and others on the huge success of LYIT. As someone who comes from that neck of the woods, I am familiar with it. From an economic perspective, apart from anything else, I know that it has been a serious bonus to Letterkenny and the wider area.
I have several questions. How many students are on the campus in Letterkenny?
Where does Mr. Moloney see the growth areas for the college? He mentioned technical university status. What role does he see it playing in the development of the facility? What does he believe is the growth area for employment? Does he feel the institute's need will be the economic activity in the Donegal and Sligo catchment area? I am sure Letterkenny is no different to other towns whereby housing is becoming an issue for students. How significant an issue is it? Does Mr. Moloney feel institutes of technology such as that in Letterkenny could have a greater role to play, rather than having students leave the town on a Sunday evening on a bus to Dublin, with their parents trying to fund them?
Mr. Fintan Moloney:
The Senator has asked many questions and I ask him to remind me if I do not cover them all. The number of full-time and part-time students on campus is 4,316. With regard to accommodation, believe it or not, there is not an accommodation issue with the campuses in Letterkenny or Killybegs. This comes from the student representatives themselves on the governing body. I have asked them specifically whether there is a problem with accommodation. Of the 4,316 students, 75% are Donegal-domiciled. This makes a major difference. It is different from the situation we find in Dublin, Galway or Cork where accommodation is under pressure.
The full employment factor creates pressure on increasing student numbers. We have seen growth and been successful in collaboration with local industry and local businesses on part-time distance learning courses geared towards what the employer wants. They have an input into how the courses are formed. We target the larger employers most and bring potential employers on board. We ask them what type of people they need to fulfil their staff complement. They are active in designing the courses and allow their employees off work to do the courses on a part-time basis and make it easier for them. There is a dividend at the end of the day because there are bonuses for the company if it ends up with better educated employees.
I welcome Mr. Moloney. He mentioned the Connacht-Ulster alliance. How is it progressing? What is LyIT's relationship with the institutes of technology in Sligo and Mayo? How is it being progressed? Does the institute of technology have many people doing online courses? Mr. Moloney mentioned foreign students residing in Donegal.
Mr. Fintan Moloney:
The figure I gave of 135 relates to people who are physically present in Donegal. To answer the question on the Connacht-Ulster alliance, the North-South collaboration was formed quite a number of years. Brexit has raised a couple of questions on where we can go from here but there is certainly a guarantee that the fee structure of courses at LyIT on which there are students from the North will not change until they complete their courses. With regard to what will happen after Brexit, and what form it will take, I am afraid we are all still looking towards the heavens.
With regard to the Connacht-Ulster alliance, the registrars, presidents and financial controllers have monthly meetings. On top of this, the chairmen have also met on a number of occasions. For my part, there is a little hiatus at present because my authorisation to act as chairman finished on 30 September and I did not hear until 25 October that I was to have designate title until such date as I am approved, if I am approved. I am not assuming anything in this regard. I would like this hiatus to cease so we get back on track. Any vacuum will delay the process of the Connacht-Ulster alliance. There is a lot of work to be done. There is a lot of negotiation to be done and a lot of trust to be built up among the three partners to bring it to the stage where we can make a technological university application.
Mr. Fintan Moloney:
It is not something on which we are strong. Institute of Technology Sligo is much stronger with regard to online courses. Our part-time courses that feed in through the education and training board are very strong. Online is an area we must improve. It is similar to the other matrices involved in achieving technical university status, in terms of the 4% of students moving to masters from research. We are on that road but we are certainly not there yet. With regard to 90% of full-time academic staff being at masters level or higher, we are still on the road. There will be analysis by the end of this month on exactly where we are and then we will see where we go from there. Planning will be required.
This week I saw a university and institutes of technology league table. One of the criteria was students' employment prospects on leaving third level. How does LyIT fare regarding student employment?
I thank Mr. Moloney for coming before the committee. He brings great quality to the role of chairperson and his experience has definitely benefitted the institute of technology in Letterkenny. He has outlined the challenges and priorities. All that remains for us is to notify the Minister we have had an engagement with him. On behalf of the committee, I thank him for his engagement and wish him every success in his role.