Thursday, 19 May 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
110. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps that he and the Higher Education Authority are taking to progress the process of obtaining technological university status for Dundalk Institute of Technology; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24104/22]
The securing of technological university status for Dundalk IT is fundamental to the economic and social development of County Louth and the rest of the north east. As the Minister knows, there are only two institutes outside consortia: Dundalk IT, DkIT, and the Institute of Art Design and Technology, IADT. The Minister recently visited Dundalk IT, for which I thank him. I am somewhat reassured by the informal conversations he and I have had about the direction of travel. Could he formally update the House on the progress on technological university status for DkIT?
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and arranging for me to meet members of the Teachers' Union of Ireland when I visited DkIT. I was delighted to do so and will be delighted to have a further meeting with them in due course.
As the Deputy is well aware, DkIT is currently pursuing a trajectory to achieve technological university status. Let me be very clear: the north east must not and will not be left behind when it comes to having a technological university. It is key to have university status in the north east. We know how we got here, and no one needs a history lesson about this. It is now about the future and getting this done. We now have circumstances in which the governing body, staff representative bodies, executive management team and student union all have the same vision. They all want the institute to become a technological university.
The Government and Department have provided financial assistance through the technological university transformation fund and we have appointed Dr. Ruaidhrí Neavyn as an expert adviser through the Higher Education Authority to help DkIT achieve the metrics required. I am delighted the institute is availing of those services and was very pleased to meet Dr. Neavyn when I visited DkIT.
Substantial progress has been made in delivering technological universities across the country. Every single application I received has been processed, allowing each applicant to become a technological university. DkIT's ambition to become part of a multi-campus technological university will require to be considered under the legislative approach prescribed in section 38 of the 2018 Act for the merger of an institute of technology with an existing technological university. It is a matter for any stand-alone institute to engage with an existing technological university on the merits of its incorporation.
Realistically, as three of the five technological universities have been established only since October last, it is required that these conversations take place directly with the institute and the other parties concerned. However, as soon as we receive any application or any progress on metrics from DkIT, we will proceed with the utmost urgency and support from the Government, my Department and all the Oireachtas Members in Louth, including Deputy Nash.
The Minister's preference is to have the relationships form organically. Every time I read about the creation of a new technological university in this country, my heart sinks. This is because Dundalk is isolated and has been left stranded. I see every announcement as a missed opportunity for DkIT and its students. The delays and obfuscation over the past few years have been inexcusable. In truth, there is a culture of impunity at the top of the college and, in my view, nobody is being held to account for the delays, which have been really damaging. It has been a bruising experience for the staff in DkIT, who have pioneered and campaigned very strongly to secure technological university status for DkIT. I acknowledge that the Higher Education Authority is very much involved in trying to move this process on. That is very important indeed.
I acknowledge that the DkIT metrics are good and going in the right direction. All the evidence suggests that DkIT would be a very strong partner in any consortium with technological university status. Could the Minister clarify for the House what his function is in this regard? Does he have a function in bringing individual parties together to include them in a consortium if no consortium or deal can be arrived at organically?
My legislative function is very clear in the Technological Universities Act. I have just started setting up technological universities right across the country. I am very eager that we deliver one for the north east. However, my actual function has been to provide funding and expert advice. This has resulted in much progress in respect of DkIT. I believe we will be in a position to make progress in the north east and genuinely believe we will deliver technological university status for the institute. The Deputy talked about missed opportunities. He will note that none of them lie with this House, the current Government or any previous Government, but we need to move on from them now. There is now a shared vision in DkIT for the first time ever, with staff, students, the management body and governing authority all saying the same thing.
We have the experts in there working on the metrics. My role is to bring people together, facilitate conversations, provide financial assistance and bring Oireachtas Members from Louth together. Maybe we could usefully do that before the summer recess.