Tuesday, 21 March 2017
Department of Education and Skills
Third Level Institutions Mergers
334. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to progress in talks between Waterford Institute of Technology and Carlow Institute of Technology regarding the proposed merger of the two third level institutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13586/17]
As the Deputy will be aware, the Programme for Government outlines that this new Government will continue to support the creation of Technological Universities.
This is in line with the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 which provides a framework for the development of the higher education sector to 2030. With regard to the institute of technology sector, the Strategy recommended significant reforms to position the sector to meet national strategic objectives. In particular, the Strategy recommended consolidation within the sector and a pathway of evolution for those consolidated institutes of technology, to allow them to demonstrate significant progress against robust performance criteria and to apply to become technological universities.
The Technological University for the South-East (TUSE) project was initiated in 2011 and consists of a consortium of two Institutes of Technology; Institute of Technology Carlow (ITC) and Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT).
The TUSE consortium made good progress initially and submitted a Stage 1 expression of interest in 2012. However, following this initial promising start, the consortium encountered a series of challenges and difficulties and did not succeed in finalising a Stage 2 Plan prior to the decision by WIT to suspend all merger activities in October 2014.
Following meetings with both Institutes, in early November 2014, the then Minister for Education and Skills announced the establishment of a new process of engagement and consultation, with the governing bodies, staff and students of both Institutes, together with the wider community in the South-East, in order to articulate and develop the following:
- A shared vision for a Technological University to serve the South-East region;
- To report to the Minister on the feasibility and steps required to progress an application for technological university status within an acceptable timeframe. This to be done, having regard to the published criteria and process for designation as technological university which is already in place.
The Minister appointed Mr. Michael Kelly to lead the process of consultation. His report presented a compelling rationale for a new type of higher education institution to support a “step-change” in the economic and social development of the entire South-East region. This is clearly the overwhelming wish of stakeholders in the region.
Following the publication of the Michael Kelly report, a preliminary facilitation process which was recommended in the Report has since been completed. There was strong engagement in the process by both parties and this facilitation process has been an important building block in terms of building trust between the parties and in developing a strong working relationship between the Presidents and Chairs of both institutions. As part of this, the Presidents of the two institutions, have jointly developed an initial work-plan to support the development of a joint TU proposal.
Strategic vision for TUSE
The core elements of a new agreed vision and values for the Technologic University of the South East have already been set out by both Institutes and includes a commitment to:
- A systematic focus on the preparation of graduates for complex professional roles in a changing technological world;
- Advancing knowledge through research and scholarship;
- Dissemination of this knowledge to meet the needs of society and enterprise;
- Particular regard to the needs of the region.
Both Institutions made a joint presentation and submission to the Higher Education Authority (HEA), seeking funding to underpin the next phase of engagement. This was part of the latest call issued by the HEA regarding the restructuring of the higher education landscape. The call sought submissions for funding support in respect of the costs arising from mergers as part of the implementation of the National Strategy for Higher Education.
Arising from the submissions received and subsequent detailed presentations made to the HEA, the TUSE project were allocated a ring-fenced sum of €1.445 Million in 2016 to support the further development of the project.
In relation to the legislation, to underpin the development of Technological Universities, the third Government Legislative Programme of this new Partnership Government was published on 17 January 2017, and the Technological Universities Bill is listed on the Dáil Order Paper and is awaiting Committee Stage.
I recognise that there were a significant number of matters raised previously in respect of the Bill at both Committee and Report Stage. It is my intention to consult with all of the relevant stakeholders in relation to both the matters raised during the legislative process and the commitments contained in the Programme for Government.
Following the finalisation of this consultation process I will then advance the legislation having determined a position in relation to any matters raised as part of this consultation process.