Dáil debates

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Technological Universities

11:50 am

Verona Murphy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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31. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the progress of the Connacht and Ulster alliance of Sligo Institute of Technology, Galway and Mayo Institute of Technology and Letterkenny Institute of Technology on forming a technical university. [22602/20]

Verona Murphy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I am the spokesperson for the Regional Group and obviously our interest is in the regions. Will the Minister give an update on the progress of the Connacht-Ulster alliance of Sligo IT, Galway and Mayo IT and Letterkenny IT on forming a technological university?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Murphy for the question. I am sure she will not mind me also acknowledging that Deputy Marian Harkin raised this with me earlier in the interests of her constituency.

The establishment of technological universities, including a technological university in the Connacht-Ulster region, is an important part of the Government’s higher education policy as underscored in the programme for Government. Technological universities will provide increased choices for students, an enhanced student experience and greater access for students in tackling educational disadvantage, with technological universities offering a broad range of higher education provision from apprenticeship to doctoral degrees. Technological universities will also support an increased intensity of research-informed teaching and learning and research activity, which will provide increased opportunities for collaboration with industry, attraction of foreign direct investment, retention and expansion of skills and, crucially, deliver regional development and socioeconomic benefits to the region.

Under the statutory framework detailed in the Technological Universities Act 2018, it is a matter, in the first instance, for the relevant institutes of technology participating in a technological university consortium to progress their plans and, when ready, to make an application to the Minister seeking an order establishing a technological university subject to their meeting the eligibility criteria prescribed in the 2018 Act.

The Connacht-Ulster alliance of GMIT, LYIT and IT Sligo has advised my Department that it is making significant progress towards meeting the relevant technological university criteria and it is understood that the alliance plans to submit an application under the relevant legislative procedure by the end of this year. It is working its way through that. The governing bodies met in November 2019 to accelerate their proposals. The consortium has to date received €5.9 million in Exchequer funding through the higher education landscape funding to assist in its technological university development proposals. A steering group is in place along with four working groups and 19 sub-groups, involving more than 150 staff and students from across the range of the consortium. A huge amount of work is under way. My message to everybody is that we need this train to leave the station soon. We need the delivery of this technological university for the north west.

Verona Murphy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister. Technological university status is essential, as is having third level education remain in the region. It must happen sooner rather than later. A technological university of the west and north-west will be one of the largest multi-campus universities on the island, bringing together students, enterprise and communities spanning a unique geographical region in transition on the periphery of Europe, which has a predominantly dispersed rural population. Until that university status is achieved, which will allow for further future independent development financially, will the Minister commit to ensuring the alliance is completed in the quickest possible timeframe?

Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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I spoke to the Minister earlier on this. I believe that the Connacht-Ulster alliance, is on target to reach the qualifying metrics. I have two brief points. Extra intake of students means the metrics will change slightly with higher numbers required. The Minister might take this into consideration because it could happen that by the tiniest margin some colleges might not reach the qualifying metrics. There are three colleges - and I earnestly hope all three will reach the criteria as it would be brilliant for the region - but if it were to happen that only two reached the qualifying metrics this year, I hope those two colleges could go ahead and the third could join at an appropriate time.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputies Murphy and Harkin. I note those metrics and will reflect on them. In the period between now and December the Connacht-Ulster alliance plans to finalise its memorandum of understanding with the Teachers Union of Ireland; hold monthly meetings with representatives of professional management and support staff; verify key achievements of technological university criteria and metrics; consider the final reports from their due diligence consultants; continue internal and external communications and consultations as part of stakeholder engagement; prepare business process alignment, including for IT services; and finalise and submit an application for technological university designation to me under the Technological Universities Act 2018 at the end of this year. Clearly there is a lot of work going on and I commend the alliance on that. The main issue for the consortium relates to attainment of the research-related eligibility criteria under the Act, and it is working towards achieving that objective. Currently, the research metric is at 3.4% but I am informed that projections for enrolments in September indicate achievement of this metric. The consortium believes it is in a good place in that regard. Processes are also in place to quantify and document the achievement of staff qualifications. I will keep the Deputies informed.

Verona Murphy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I will not labour the point other than to say that the region has a predominantly dispersed rural population. The need for the technological university will provide a critical mass in academic debt to attract, educate, nurture and retain the region's workforce post education, and to ensure job security for the future for the region.