Wednesday, 28 April 2021
Department of Education and Skills
766. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the progress made towards giving Thurles and Clonmel university towns status; the approximate date by which such status will be formally announced; the requirements such status will make of his Department in terms of further investment in the Thurles and Clonmel campuses; his views on the benefits this status will give to County Tipperary as an educational hub; his further views on the benefits this status will have for educational access locally; his vision for the future of the LIT campuses in Clonmel and Thurles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22071/21]
On 20 November 2020 I received a joint application under section 29(1) of the Technological Universities Act 2018 from Athlone Institute of Technology and Limerick Institute of Technology seeking technological university (TU) designation. On 21 December 2020, I appointed an advisory panel to assess the application and to furnish a report thereon to the HEA. The advisory panel’s report was furnished to the HEA on 12 February 2021. I subsequently received this report along with the views of the HEA on 1 April 2021.
Under section 34(1) of the 2018 Act, I am required within 60 days of receiving and considering the advisory panel report, HEA views and information provided, to notify the applicant institutes of my proposed decision on their joint application. I am currently considering all relevant material in the context of my role as decision maker under the 2018 Act and within the requisite legislatively prescribed timeframe.
The creation of new TUs is a key commitment within the Programme for Government and is viewed as a prerequisite for balanced regional development, the retention and attraction of a highly skilled workforce, research capacity building, access to higher education provision and broad socioeconomic progression.
A new multi-campus TU can become a catalyst for enterprise and regional development and increase the academic and regional profile of the unified, integrated higher education institution (HEI) nationally and internationally. The potential benefits of becoming a successful TU are significant in terms of increased higher education access and excellence in teaching and learning, greater critical mass and reach facilitating international recognition, research capacity building, Foreign Direct Investment attraction, skills retention and creation, regional development, enhanced staff and student experiences and opportunities and broader socioeconomic progression. These benefits should accrue to all campuses across any new multi-campus TU and across the wider hinterland of the university to positively benefit all counties and communities within a region.
Anchored in a multi-campus physical environment, TUs can also provide state-of-the-art learning resources such as libraries, laboratories and e-learning facilities, utilising their solid campus base to support the provision of online and distance learning and widening access to a suite of research informed teaching and learning excellence across all levels of the National Framework of Qualification. As such, TUs can meet the higher education needs of the widest possible range of learners and are legislatively required to have particular regard to the needs of their regions and to provide programmes of education and training that reflects the needs of individuals, business, enterprise, the professions, the community, local interests and other stakeholders in their region.
Government has to date invested heavily in the TU agenda to date with over €65 million invested through higher education landscape and transformation funding since 2013. The TU Transformation fund will expend €90 million in total to 2023 with €34.3 million having been allocated in its first tranche last October. In total, over €120 million will have been invested in TU development and progression by 2023.
A key recommendation of the 2019 Technological University Research Network (TURN) report which sets out the blueprint and requirements for successful TUs in the State, is the prioritisation of capital investment in TUs where they are exclusively dependent on Exchequer resourcing. Capital investment has been and will continue to be associated with ongoing TU progression. Currently eleven building projects in the technological sector are being advanced as part of the Higher Education Public Private Partnership (PPP) Programme. These projects will play an important role in enabling projected increases in student enrolments, addressing constraints with regard to existing infrastructure and significantly advancing the TU agenda. The configuration and utilisation of specific campuses in any TU are matters for the individual TU upon establishment.
I am strongly committed to capital investment capital investment to underpin the ambitions of our higher education institutions including TUs. Officials from the Department and the Higher Education Authority have regular engagement with HEIs, including Limerick IT and Athlone IT, in relation to their future campus development plans.