The establishment of technological universities (TUs), including in the Connacht Ulster region, is an important part of the Government’s higher education policy.
TUs are a core part of Government’s plan to meet the challenges facing us as an economy and a society with the objective of having a TU presence in every region of the country. This will provide increased choices for students, an enhanced student experience and greater access for potential students tackling educational disadvantage with TUs offering a broad range of teaching from apprenticeship to doctoral degrees. They will also support an increased intensity of research activity which will provide increased opportunities for collaboration with industry and deliver benefits for the economy and wider society. TUs will marry both an attractive physical multi-campus presence with state-of-the-art digital connectivity, providing new modes of learning where the student and learner is placed centre-stage and can access course content and avail of first-class tuition irrespective of location or circumstance. Each TU will serve as an anchor institution in the development and advancement of its region. Drawing frontier technological developments to regions through intensive collaboration, engagement with and connectedness to national and international researchers will be fundamental to TUs acting as regional knowledge hubs. These hubs will, in turn, act as major catalysts for further direct investment, research, innovation and employment growth.
On 18 October I announced €14.25 million in funding to Higher Education Institutions under the HEA 2019 call for submissions for higher education landscape restructuring, consolidation and collaborative projects. The majority of this investment, €11.8 million, is aimed at progressing the creation and expansion of TUs. The Connacht Ulster Alliance (CUA), comprising the Galway Mayo, Letterkenny and Sligo Institutes of Technology, was allocated €2 million under this call bringing total Exchequer funding to date for their project to €5.92 million. In total since 2013 some €31 million in Exchequer funding has been invested in TU creation and development.
Launched earlier this month, the report of the high level working group, the TU Research Network (TURN), entitled ‘Technological Universities: Connectedness & Collaboration enabled by Connectivity’ sets out the case for a state change in higher education reform for the delivery of national strategic priorities such as are elaborated in Project Ireland 2040, the National Development Plan and Future Jobs Ireland. This state change is to be achieved through the connectedness, particularly at regional level, collaboration and connectivity of TUs and their unique delivery of programmes across the full range of the National Framework of Qualifications. The report makes a series of 12 recommendations for outcomes that will provide TUs with a solid foundation for their development. These centre upon three thematic areas identified by TURN as the essential building blocks for successful TUs : -
- investment in integrated multi-campus digital infrastructure to provide regional cohesion and to facilitate new modes of learning and the prioritisation of capital investment in TUs;
- investment in research capacity building by developing researcher human capital, facilitating research activity and opportunities for existing academic staff and implementing a researcher career development and employment framework, addressing infrastructural deficits and prioritising research strategies within TUs, exploiting fully the mutually supporting roles of teaching and research; and
- re-alignment of the policy framework and funding for TUs including an expansion of institutional autonomy and reform through the implementation of TU-apposite career structures, the reform of the grant allocation model to accommodate TUs, the creation of a dedicated TU funding stream including in the post-establishment phase and the creation of a borrowing framework for TUs.
The report recognises that relevant priority actions can only be achieved through a structured, system-wide, relevant and dynamic process that will ensure value for money, underpinned by a robust and evidence-based set of monitoring and evaluation arrangements. The TURN report can be accessed on the Department’s website
As announced during Budget 2020 and in response to the TURN report the Government is providing €90 million over the next three years under a new TU Transformation Fund to support consortia such as CUA to achieve TU designation and to support the further advancement of established TUs.
The TURN report and the ongoing work of the group, whose remit is being extended, will continue to be of considerable assistance and benefit to consortia such as the CUA towards achieving TU designation, as will access to the new TU Transformation Fund being developed currently in consultation with TURN.
As such further TU creation, establishment and progression will be achieved by the relevant stakeholders delivering on the TURN report recommendations and the transformational multi-annual funding underpinning such delivery.
The Department met with the Presidents and Chairs of the IoTs involved in the CUA in recent weeks in relation to TU related system-wide issues and to support and encourage the consortium in the progression of their TU development proposals. However, ultimately it remains a matter for a consortium to lead on the progression of their plans to seek TU designation under the Technological Universities Act 2018 and to ensure that they have a shared unitary vision and purpose for TU development and can demonstrate compliance with the relevant eligibility criteria and related legislative requirements prescribed in the 2018 Act.
In this context it is understood from the recent discussion that an application by the consortium is anticipated to be made by CUA in the latter half of 2020.