Thursday, 8 July 2021
Department of Education and Skills
By late 2019 there was considerable concern at the pace of progress in relation to the proposals of the TUSEI consortium comprising IT Carlow and Waterford IT to establish a technological university (TU). The South East is the only region in the country without a university presence. Addressing this situation has been a priority objective for the Department not just in educational terms but because of its wider significance in accelerating regional development..
In this context the Department encouraged the TUSEI consortium to work effectively to achieve TU designation including through the establishment of appropriate governance structures. The Department’s considered view was there was a persuasive case to be made, based on previous successful TU applications in Dublin and Munster, for securing the services of a programme executive director with a strong mandate under the joint governance structures put in place by the consortium. The creation of a project-specific senior executive leadership role, either a person or team of high standing operating across both institutions, would accelerate project momentum and, crucially, expedite the TU application. This person or persons would be ceded sufficient devolved authority from the institutions’ governing bodies to speak authoritatively on its progress, manage and deliver the finalised application, and lead project delivery in advance of any legal establishment of the TU and recruitment of its leadership team.
The consortium proceeded to explore the possibilities of such a role in early 2020, keeping the Department informed of developments. I understand the consortium compiled a specification for the role of programme executive director and then drew up shortlists of potentially suitable individuals. In this regard the consortium was supported by the Department in engaging with a number of experienced senior leaders, mainly in the university sector, to sound out whether there would be interest in the role. This did not yield a successful outcome with none of these candidates the person subsequently appointed to the role by the consortium.
In July 2020 the consortium ultimately appointed Mr. Tom Boland, a former and long-serving Chief Executive of the HEA who is highly regarded within the Irish higher education sector with significant experience and expertise in higher education, to the role of programme executive director.
The Department was advised of the proposed appointment and agreed that it would meet the requirements identified for independent senior executive leadership to accelerate the delivery of the TUSEI project. A project that up to that point had been ongoing for some nine years.
Given the importance attaching to the establishment of a TU in the South East in the Programme for Government, as Minister I welcomed Mr. Boland’s appointment on 28 July 2020 having briefed the Cabinet on the advancement of the TUSEI consortium proposals, including this appointment, on 22 July.
For the avoidance of doubt my Department, while supportive of the TUSEI consortium in the manner outlined, did not hold responsibility for the process of appointment and the agreement of contractual arrangements, as the consortium was the contracting party for the services of the programme executive director.
The Deputy will be aware that the project has achieved very significant progress with the Governing Bodies of IT Carlow and Waterford IT submitting their joint TU application on April 30th and arrangements underway for this application to be considered by an international expert advisory panel as provided for in the Technological Universities Act 2018.