Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) and Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) have announced plans to merge and establish a single Technological University for the mid-west and Midlands.
The decision to merge follows the announcement of Ireland’s most recent higher education budget, in which €90 million has been allocated to fund technological universities over the next few years.
Last year, IT Tallaght (ITT), IT Blanchardstown (ITB), and Dublin IT (DIT) merged to form Ireland’s first technological university, Technological University of Dublin (TU Dublin). According to the Higher Education Authority in Ireland, technological universities seek to “play a pivotal role in facilitating access and progression particularly through relationships with the further education and training sector”.
Currently, at least 3 other consortia are in talks to establish technological universities. Last summer, Tralee IT and Cork IT submitted a formal bid to become Munster Technological University. An external committee delayed the process, citing “problematic” confusion surrounding how the institutions would “act as one” as well as concerns over research rates. Waterford IT have entered into talks with IT Carlow for a Technological University for the South-East Ireland, and Galway-Mayo IT, IT Sligo, and Letterkenny IT have done the same for a Connacht Ulster Alliance.
The chief executive of Technological Higher Education Association (THEA), Dr. Joseph Ryan, has expressed his confidence in the future of technological universities in Ireland, calling the impending merges, “the most significant enhancement for Irish higher education in decades and we anticipate with great interest, the emergence of this new higher education sector”.
He continued, stating: “The TUs will offer a system of higher education which, through its distinctive academic learning environment, is designed to meet the employment and skills needs of Ireland’s regions through existing well-established and embedded links to employers and local communities.”
This comes during a period of extreme criticism of Ireland’s investment in third level education. Last year at a seminar of the Irish Universities Association, Thomas Estermann of the European Universities Association expressed concerns over the future of Irish third level education, explaining that “funding per student has declined, and third-level capital infrastructure is underfunded. Meanwhile, restrictions remain on staff recruitment, leaving Ireland near the bottom for the autonomy of its universities to recruit staff. Ireland’s GDP growth suggests possibilities for renewed investment in its universities”.
Despite concerns over higher education funding, many have applauded the recent investment in technological universities. President of LIT Professor Vincent Cunnane called the decision “generationally significant for the mid-west.” And AIT president Professor Ciaran O Cathain concluded it would be “transformative for the Midlands region”.