New Technological Universities will be created under the reforms set out in Ireland’s National Strategy for Higher Education.
These will focus on science and technology programmes that are vocationally and professionally oriented. Technological Universities will address the social and economic needs of their region and will engage in industry-focussed research.
The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 made recommendations for the creation of technological universities and the process and criteria for designation as a technological university were set out in the 2012 Landscape document.
A Technological University will be distinguished by a mission and ethos that is aligned and consistent with the current mission and focus of institutes of technology with an emphasis on programmes at levels 6 to 8 and industry-focused research. A Technological University will also be expected to play a pivotal role in facilitating access and progression particularly through relationships with the further education and training sector.
The creation of a technological university requires the consolidation of at least two institutions. Each consortium applying for designation will be required to meet the designated criteria and achieve high standards across a range of areas before being designated as technological universities. These include standards relating to the qualifications of staff, the quality of research output, the proportion of students engaged in lifelong learning, amongst other areas.
In 2014, detailed plans were submitted to the HEA by two consortia seeking designation as technological universities. The submission of the plans represented stage 2 of the 4 stage process for the designation of technological universities.
Cork and Tralee Institutes of Technology put forward proposals for a merger in Munster leading to an application for a technological university for the region. Dublin, Blanchardstown and Tallaght Institutes of Technology also propose to form a new institution for the city and county of Dublin.
The role of the HEA in Stage 3 of the process was to manage the process for the development of technological universities on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills. An international independent panel was put in place, tasked with the assessment of the Stage 2 plans. Following their assessment the panel recommended that both consortia could proceed. The report and letter to the Munster consortium and report and letter to the Dublin consortium were published.
Following merger, stage 4 consists of an application to become a technological university submitted to the HEA, who will consider whether the high performance bar has been reached following another independent international expert assessment. The HEA will then make a recommendation to the Minister on whether technological university status should be awarded.
The Technological Universities Bill was published in December 2015 and its main purpose was to give effect to the recommendations set out in the National Strategy with regard to the institute of technology sector, including the development of a new technological university model. In addition, the Bill provided for a number of important reforms to the governance and operation of the existing institutes of technology. The Minister for Education and Science is currently consulting on the TU Bill.
The second System Performance Report stated the following on the progress of Technological Universities:
“There are currently four consortia engaged with the process to become designated as technological universities:
- TU4Dublin, consisting of Dublin Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Tallaght and Institute of Technology Blanchardstown
- Technological University for the South-East (TUSE), consisting of Waterford Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Carlow
- Munster Technological University (MTU), consisting of Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Tralee
- Connacht Ulster Alliance (CUA), consisting of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Sligo, and Letterkenny Institute of Technology.
“At the end of 2014, two consortia, TU4 Dublin and Munster TU both applied for and passed, Stage 3 of the four stage process for re-designation as a technological university. This involved the preparation of a plan setting out the process by which the institutions would merge and move to meet the standards set out in the criteria for designation. The applications were managed by the HEA, which drew on an expert panel to consider and assess the applications. The HEA formally advised the Minister for Education and Skills on the outcomes of its deliberations and the Minister made the final decision to allow the consortia to proceed towards Stage 4 (2014). The Minister also noted and advised the consortia of the HEA feedback on the proposals.
“In early 2015 the Connacht Ulster Alliance also expressed an interest in merging and in applying to become a technological university. The HEA considered their application and recommended that the Minister allow the consortium to proceed to the next stage of the process. The Minister then approved the Connacht Ulster Alliance (CUA) application to proceed to Stage 2 of the technological university designation process in October 2015. In line with the process for designation as a technological university, Stage 2 of this process involves the preparation of a plan by the Connacht Ulster Alliance, to meet the criteria for designation as a technological university.
“In the South-East, the consortium made good progress initially and submitted a Stage 1 expression of interest in 2012. The consortium then encountered a series of challenges and difficulties and have not yet finalised a Stage 2 plan. However, a report published in July 2015 outlined that the establishment of a technological university for the South-East is viable and could be delivered within a reasonable timescale. Subsequently, a facilitation process was put in place in September 2015, and this has played an important role in building trust between the parties and in developing a strong working relationship between the presidents and chairs of both institutions. As part of this process, the presidents of the two institutions have jointly developed an initial work-plan to support the development of a joint technological university proposal.”