As autonomous, independent Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) established under statute, it is a matter for the governing body of each Institute of Technology (IoT) to set its own strategic direction. I understand that Dundalk IT is currently undertaking a strategic planning consultation process with a view to producing its 2020 – 2023 strategic plan by year’s end. The Department has not had engagement with the HEI in relation to any specific structural organisation of the type the Deputy refers to and which remains a matter for the institution.
In terms of national higher education policy, Government policy as set out in the Programme for Government is to support the creation of technological universities (TUs) as HEIs of sufficient size, capacity and critical mass to have a significant impact at regional, national and international level. TUs will have greater links to industry and will have a major impact on the capacity to create and retain jobs in regions. They will assist in achieving national strategic objectives such as are set out under Project Ireland 2040, the National Development Plan and Future Jobs Ireland. Government will continue to prioritise those institutions which have clear ambitions and plans for the furthering of industry-relevant technological research and education.
Under the statutory framework detailed in the Technological Universities Act 2018, two or more IoTs may jointly seek TU designation through a prescribed legislative process. Section 29 of the Act provides for the application jointly by two or more applicant institutes to the Minister of Education and Skills for an order seeking designation as a TU subject to their jointly meeting specified eligibility criteria. Section 38 of the Act provides that an applicant institute and an established technological university may apply to the Minister for an order. The undertaking of the relevant legislative process remains a discretionary matter for decision by the governing bodies of the HEIs involved.
In addition to the enactment of the 2018 Act, Government have put in place a number of very important supports enabling the establishment of TUs.
The TU Research Network (TURN) established by my Department completed a report which was launched on 6 November 2019 entitled ‘Technological Universities: Connectedness & Collaboration enabled by Connectivity’ and which details the case and requirements for a state change in higher education reform whereby TUs will assist in the delivery of national strategic objectives for regional socioeconomic development, higher education access, research and skills progression.
The report makes recommendations for the strategic development of TUs in a structured system-wide approach and identifies the need for investment in integrated multi-campus digital infrastructure, research capacity building and realignment of the policy framework and funding for TUs.
In response Government announced in Budget 2020 the provision of €90 million over the next three years under a new TU Transformation Fund to support IoT consortia to achieve TU designation and the further advancement of established TUs. This is additional to the €31 million in Exchequer funding invested in TU development to date.
However, there continues to be diversity within the national higher education landscape. Under the 2019 higher education landscape funding call for restructuring, consolidation and collaborative projects, €2.45 million in Exchequer funding was allocated to non-TU related projects with €1.05 million being allocated to a number of HEIs building and deepening cross-border strategic alliances with higher and further education and training providers in Northern Ireland. Of this funding element an allocation of €0.55 million was made to Dundalk IT for the work the IoT is undertaking in developing a region of learning in the North Leinster – South Ulster area.