We thank the committee for the opportunity to discuss the crucial issue of the progression of the technological university agenda. We believe it is well recognised that, for the past 50 years, the regional technical colleges and subsequently the institutes of technology have delivered an excellent service in providing vocational, technical, technological and professional skills and qualifications to generations of students. The strengths of the sector also reside in its strong links with local and regional business and enterprise and their practical approach to teaching and learning, informed by applied research. These institutions provide pathways for progression into higher education which, through either geography or circumstance, may not otherwise have been within the reach of many young and not so young people.
The next step in the evolution of the higher education journey is a step change, which will build upon the strengths of the sector and ally them with the strengths of traditional universities, like more theoretical research, state-of-the-art facilities and international research. We are endeavouring to afford everyone the opportunity, wherever they are located, to avail of the best that higher education has to offer. When it comes to technological universities, this applies across the entire range of the national framework of qualifications from level 6 to level 10, with apprenticeships also a vital component.
Fundamentally, this is all about the type of tertiary education system we should aspire to and how we ensure we nurture the skills and qualities needed to survive and thrive in an increasingly globally competitive, digitised and automated world. Technological universities are rooted in their communities and that connectedness on a range of levels is their strength. I emphasise this is not simply about a skills pipeline of talent to rejuvenate regional development and socio-economic progress. Although those are necessary objectives, we also want to nurture genuine learning environments that are welcoming and student-focused and which enable each person to fulfil their potential and to avail of academic freedom, a lively spirit of inquiry and personal development, which are the hallmarks of true university level education.
Much has been achieved since the enactment of the Technological Universities Act 2018 almost three years ago. At that time, there were 14 institutes of technology of varying sizes on the higher education landscape. In that very short space of time, relatively speaking, we have consolidated the technological sector to nine institutes alongside two technological universities of far greater critical mass and capacity. Technological University Dublin vies with UCD to be the largest higher education institution in the state. Together, more than 43,000 additional students are receiving university-level education and hopefully will graduate in due course with university qualifications.
We received another application for technological university designation last November, from Athlone and Limerick institutes of technology. They have just been through the advisory panel process element of the prescribed legislative assessment and decision-making process. If ultimately successful, this would see university education provision introduced and expanded in the midlands and mid-west, opening up opportunities all along the Shannon. On the first day of this year, Munster Technological University, MTU, was formally established, marking the establishment of the second technological university in the State, the first outside the capital, and an important milestone for higher education in Ireland and, in particular, for the south west. We anticipate, all things being equal, receiving two more applications for technological university designation in the next number of months, which will seek to replicate the achievements of Dublin and Munster in the west, north west and south east. By this time next year, there is every possibility, without prejudice to the legislative process, that the landscape could have shifted radically once more and we could potentially have five technological universities and two stand-alone institutes of technology.
The Government has invested heavily in the technological university agenda with over €65 million invested through landscape and transformation funding. The transformation fund will expend €90 million up to 2023, with €34.3 million allocated in the first tranche last October. In total, over €120 million will have been invested in technological university development and progression. We can assure the committee of our strong commitment to ensuring that all areas can benefit from the advantages of a region-centric, multi-campus technological university, with the opportunity to increase capital investment, including foreign direct investment, skills creation and retention, higher education access and increased research capacity, enabling people everywhere to be empowered to play to their strengths regionally, nationally and internationally.
I refer to some issues raised recently in relation to the efforts of the Technological University of South East Ireland consortium, where IT Carlow and Waterford IT are doing incredible work to finalise the application for designation. It is vital to the nature of this project that we do not allow a divisive campaign to develop, which would be grossly unfair to both institutes and to the staff, students and other stakeholders who are working so assiduously to create something of real benefit to the entirety of the region.
The concept of a technological university is founded on a merging of equals and parity of esteem, and we hope that everyone would seek to assist and advance technological university proposals positively. Technological university establishment in the south east will bring significant higher education and regional development opportunities to the entire region, together with the prospect of prioritised capital investment attaching as recommended by the seminal 2019 TU Research Network, TURN, report.
We stress that it is our clear intention to use technological university establishment to expand and improve higher education in Waterford and regionally to increase investment, attract more students and offer more people an opportunity to study in a university campus in their county or region. We want to see expansion and a larger footprint for higher education in Waterford, and the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have also been clear on this point. We thank the Deputies and Senators for their kind attention and look forward to the discussion.