The National Strategy for Education to 2030 recommended consolidation within the Institute of Technology sector and a pathway of evolution for consolidated institutes of technology (IoTs) to allow them to demonstrate significant progress against stated performance criteria and to become multi-campus technological universities.
The Programme for Government supports the creation of technological universities. These regional higher education institutions will have greater links to industry and will have an enormous impact on the capacity to create and retain jobs in regions. Government will prioritise those institutions which have clear ambitions and plans for the furthering of industry-relevant technological research and education.
A technological university (TU) will be distinguished by a mission and ethos that is aligned and consistent with the current mission and focus of IoTs with an emphasis on programmes at Levels 6 to 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ), industry focused research and the development and use of new knowledge through industry-focused research. However, TUs will also offer post-graduate programmes at Levels 9 and 10 on the NFQ.
TUs will help retain talent in the regions by strengthening the offer available to students who will be able to continue to masters and postgraduate level, including PhDs. Larger management and academic teams permitted by the merger of institutions will increase institutional capacity and will facilitate enhanced performance in areas such as winning research funding.
TUs 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 presence of a technological university in a region, with a specific mandate for promoting regional development, will have a transformative effect on local and regional communities.
By creating institutions of increased scale and capacity, multi-campus TUs will bring greater social and economic benefits to their regions through a strengthened role in research and innovation and the delivery of a broad range of high quality education and training in each of their campuses. It is clear from the progress made with existing consortia and from international exemplars that there is very considerable coherence in sectoral and educational offerings that make a single HEI hub both a catalyst and a magnet for regional economic development and employment.
The strong regional mission of TUs to support development and innovation is aligned with the objectives of Project Ireland 2040: National Planning Framework. Enhanced HEIs will deliver the skilled and talented people that sustain enterprise and new investments. The National Development Plan 2018 - 2027 cites as a priority the establishment of a clearly prioritised Exchequer-supported higher education building programme including the objective of bolstering the capacity of multi-campus TUs. The current TU development consortia are referenced under Project Ireland 2040 as having a role in deepening the talent pool for distinctive regional clusters and driving research and innovation. TUs will also be well placed to attract increased research funding and to bid for a share of the €4 billion in funding available as part of Project Ireland 2040 over the period 2019 – 2027 under the four broad themes of rural development, urban development, climate action and disruptive technology.
In terms of the practical progression of TUs, on 19 March 2018 the Technological Universities Act 2018 was signed into law. The Act provides the legal framework underpinning the process for establishment by two or more IoTs as a TU subject to a decision-making process contingent on the meeting of specified eligibility criteria and including assessment by an international advisory panel. The 2018 Act also sets out the functions and governance requirements for these new HEIs.
On 1 January 2019 the first TU in the State, Technological University Dublin, which formerly comprised Dublin Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Blanchardstown and Institute of Technology Tallaght, was established. This can be regarded as a landmark date in the evolution of Irish higher education. With some 28,000 students, Technological University Dublin became the largest HEI in the State.
Another consortium of IoTs known as the Munster Technological University consortium, comprising Cork IT and IT Tralee, submitted an application to the Minister for Education and Skills seeking TU status under the 2018 Act on 12 February 2019. The relevant legislative procedures under the 2018 Act have commenced in relation to the assessment and decision- making process in relation to this application.
Thus, the Government has provided the enabling legislation in the Technological Universities Act 2018 for two or more IoTs to come together to seek TU status. Government also continues to support those consortia currently seeking to achieve such status under the legislation in terms of significant Exchequer co-funding. The potential benefits of becoming a successful TU are significant in terms of increased reach, international recognition, research capacity building, FDI attraction, skills retention and creation, regional development, enhanced staff and student experience and opportunities and socio-economic progression.
However, while the legislative framework and other supports, including significant Exchequer co-funding, are in place, in the final analysis it remains at the discretion of each individual IoT whether or not it chooses to join an existing consortium, or to form a new consortium, of institutes to progress together towards making an application for TU status under the 2018 Act.