I am grateful for the opportunity for me and the Minister of State, Deputy Collins, who will also contribute to the debate, to update the House on the progression of the technological university agenda nationally. I am delighted to see such interest in this in Seanad Éireann. It warms my heart that the time for these statements was extended. I am encouraged that there is great interest across the country about the transformation that these technological universities can bring to the regions.
The opportunity to be here today arises in part following a recent Oireachtas committee hearing on the draft order appointing 1 January 2021 as the date on which the new Munster Technological University, MTU, will be established. I thank the Seanad for its approval of the order which I signed today. It will see on the first day of next year the realisation of many years of hard work with the legal establishment of the MTU, the second such technological university, TU, in the State. As Senators will know the first TU in the State is TU Dublin which also has the honour of being the largest higher education institution with more than 29,000 students and 3,500 staff. It is indicative in many ways of what we are striving to achieve with the TU agenda.
We are seeking to create, in the merger of smaller institutes of technology, ITs, - in TU Dublin's case those of DIT, IT Blanchardstown and IT Tallaght - stand-alone multi-campus entities which are of significant and sufficient critical mass that they can punch well above their weight as individual institutions, and that as reconfigured are much more than the sum of their parts. That is in no way to undervalue what has been and continues to be achieved by institutes of technology.
I was thinking about this today when signing the order effectively dissolving Cork IT and IT Tralee. While we are moving to higher ground and an exciting new agenda, I take the opportunity to thank all the people who have worked and served in IT Tralee, Cork IT and all the institutes of technology over the years. I know there is a real affinity with many of these institutions. They are fine institutions and have served our country well for the past 50 years, putting down roots in regions and communities and providing first-class technical and technological education with wide student access and diversity, and with an embedded connectedness to local and regional business and enterprise.
The Government and the Oireachtas wish to retain and build on what is best in the IT model but to ally that with the best of the university system such as deepened research capability, level 10 designated awarding powers, and international reach and recognition. It is an exciting prospect that Tralee will be a university town from 1 January and this change has the ability to transform our regions. We want to amplify the best attributes of both types of institution into something unique. This uniqueness is to be found in the sheer bandwidth of TUs, which provide research-informed teaching and learning excellence across all levels of the national framework of qualifications, NFQ, from level 6 to level 10, from apprenticeship to doctoral degree.
Last year, the then Department of Education and Skills established a high-level working group entitled the TU research network, TURN. This group, which included the presidents of TU Dublin and of those institutes of technology involved in TU development, the Higher Education Authority, HEA, the Technological Higher Education Association, THEA, and the Department, produced a seminal report in October 2019. This report sets out in detail the blueprint for successful TU development in this country. It describes the rationale, benefits and key requirements of this new type of higher education institution in Ireland. The report is entitled "Connectedness and Collaboration through Connectivity", which sums up the ethos and model for TUs. These universities are closely connected with their regions, stakeholders, students and staff. They are collaborative partners with enterprise, research communities, local and national government, and other education providers at home and abroad. Their connectivity is reflective of the modern, globalised, digitally connected world in which students, staff and stakeholders live, work and study.
The report makes a series of 12 recommendations for outcomes that will provide a solid foundation for the development and progression of TUs, centring on the thematic areas of investment in integrated multi-campus digital infrastructure, research capacity-building and realignment of the policy framework and funding for TUs. The focus is now on the implementation of these recommendations, including the development of academic career structures, by the sectoral stakeholders.
Arising directly from the TURN report, budget 2020 introduced a new TU transformation fund of €90 million going out to 2023. This represents a trebling of annual funding and will see TU-oriented funding increase to over €120 million by 2023. The fund will assist in key investment areas including digital infrastructure, research capacity building, change management, systems integration, governance and project management structures and information sharing to establish TUs and assist them to deliver key strategic social and economic development objectives and to respond to specific diverse regional and sectoral impacts such as Brexit.
On 7 October, I announced that the HEA, which is overseeing and administering the fund subject to Department policy requirements, was making a total of €34.3 million in funding allocations. The funds will be disbursed in two tranches in quarter 4 this year and quarter 1 next year. Further allocations will be made in 2021 and 2022 with an emphasis from next year onwards on assisting inter-TU and consortia collaboration on systemic projects as TUs bed down and start to operate within their new environments, in pursuance of their missions and functions.
We want this fund to be utilised to create a network of these universities spanning the country and by 2023 five technological universities could be - I hope they will be - established. The fund will also continue to assist established TUs in those crucial formative years. It is important to have ring-fenced funding to bed in these new universities. In tandem, we are working with stakeholders to establish the mechanisms through which TUs can stand increasingly on their own two feet. This includes the development of a borrowing framework that will enable TUs to access non-Exchequer funding such as the European Investment Bank provides and put them on an equal footing with the traditional universities.
It will enable them to build their research capacity in both applied and theoretical fields, attract both increased research funding and retain and attract high-calibre research staff. It will involve the reconfiguration of the financing models currently in place in the publicly funded higher education sector.
This is not just a one-way street, however. The Government requires the TUs to become engines of regional development and socio-economic progress. That is why we are doing this. It is to achieve balanced regional development and greater access in the regions to higher education, and to try to advance some of our socio-economic objectives. We want the TUs to be magnets for students seeking the finest of educations in top-class, student-centred environments, but without necessarily having to always travel to the big smoke, the capital or the major cities. These facilities should be available in the regions and people should not have to leave these regions to access higher education. Connectivity and state-of-the-art facilities will ensure access to the highest levels of education provision, irrespective, within reason, of location, and subject to the continued roll-out of broadband and other connectivity avenues.
Over time, the TUs will be in a position to "wash their own faces" and facilitate the delivery of national strategic objectives in the areas of higher education provision, access, skills retention and creation, research and innovation, regional development and social progress. I have been meeting with regional skills forums throughout the country and there is a real excitement among the business community, the educators and the citizens of the regions about the difference this will make. Business owners, employers, students, education providers will be able to sit down together and plan the skills needed for the regions. They can ask themselves what they want to be good at in a particular region, and then provide the education to ensure that the workforce is available to achieve that. This will also transform the decisions that younger people will make. If they can stay in their own community and access a university education, they are much more likely to maintain their roots in that community, and that can only be good for balanced regional development.
Regarding where we are today with the TU agenda I have mentioned that we have one TU in situ - TU Dublin - with another less than a month away from establishment MUT. There is also more good news in this regard. Less than a fortnight ago, I also received an application for TU designation, under the relevant legislation, from Athlone and Limerick ITs seeking to establish a university in the midlands and mid-west and that has started a prescribed process of assessment and decision-making under the legislation, so that could well be our third TU. Further applications are anticipated from the Connacht-Ulster Alliance of Galway-Mayo, Sligo and Letterkenny ITs in early quarter 1 of next year. In respect of the south-east, which is the only region that currently has no third level university facility, an application from the TUSEI consortium of Carlow and Waterford ITs is expected in early quarter 2 of 2021
If we get through this process there will be just two ITs that remain unaligned with TU consortia. However, both of these - Dundalk Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology, Art and Design, Dun Laoghaire - are exploring possible trajectories for TU development under the legislation, with the assistance of the transformation fund.
The TURN high-level group I referenced is also being reconvened under the chairmanship of Dr. Alan Wall of the HEA with a view to the technological sector itself taking significant ownership of the TU agenda going forward, subject to national policy and strategic priorities.
Since their genesis in the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030, better known as the Hunt report, in 2011, the technological university agenda has come a long way. While it has not always been an easy or straightforward journey, since the enactment of the Technological Universities Act 2018 we are now seeing the realisation of what may have seemed a distant dream to some people in past times. I assure Senators of my own and the Government's commitment to delivering fully on the TU agenda. This is a major priority for our new Department. This is also a priority in the programme for Government 2020, with a particular urgency being accorded to the delivery of a TU for the south-east, the only region currently without a university presence.
We are making good progress in that regard and following the appointment of a new, highly experienced programme executive director last July, and building on the significant work done by the proactive team led by the presidents and governing body chairpersons, there is a renewed sense of enthusiasm and can-do spirit, which I am confident will at last rid the south-east of that unenviable label of being the only region without a university.
A TU in the west and the north-west will be of immense benefit to the people of that region, and will help forge relationships on a North-South and cross-Border basis. I would love to come back to this House to talk about how we can collaborate on an all-Island basis when it comes to higher education and research. There are significant opportunities, and some very significant civil rights issues in this space.
I see these developments and the TU agenda as integral to the Department's main mission of uniting educational opportunities with enterprise, research and innovation. I look forward to working with colleagues on all sides of the Oireachtas in pursuit of this goal and I look forward to hearing the Senators' comments and questions. Go raibh mile maith agaibh.