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Other Questions - Third Level Courses

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 752 No. 2

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 11. Deputy Seamus Kirk Information on Seamus Kirk Zoom on Seamus Kirk  asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  the progress made to date in developing a technological university in the south east; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2925/12]

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn In May of last year I formally asked the Higher Education Authority to provide advice to me on draft performance criteria for a process for the designation of technological universities. Draft criteria had been deployed by an international expert commissioned by my Department following the publication of what is known as the Hunt report. In developing its advice, the authority undertook a consultation process on the criteria which was completed last autumn. Following on from this, I understand the authority is at the current time finalising its advice and it is hoped to publish final criteria in the relatively near future. I am informed this will happen by the end of this month.

The criteria will set out a roadmap for the potential re-designation of institutes of technology, which can meet the performance requirements set out, as technological universities. Consolidation will be necessary as a precursor to any re-designation as a technological university. I understand Carlow and Waterford Institutes of technology have begun discussions on consolidation with a view to seeking re-designation.

Deputy Seamus Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk Zoom on Seamus Kirk I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome the positive thrust of what he said. If we are to take some cognisance of newspaper speculation and general observations being made in the political arena, it appears the possibility of a university in the south [291]east, which we clearly welcome, is perhaps further down the road than the Minister is telling us today. He might elaborate on that.

I take the points he made about the Hunt report, the HEA and what might or might not happen in the process of consolidation. The Minister is familiar with Dundalk and the north east. DkIT is bound by the sea on one side and the Border on the other. Its future is important and its management are more than anxious to see a pathway set out for it. The Minister might elaborate on that.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn There was a very misleading headline in a piece in The Irish Times earlier this week. No decision has been made on a technological university in the south east or anywhere else. In my formal reply I gave the Deputy the facts as they currently are. Once the criteria are published, it will then be up to institutions to decide whether they wish to collaborate with other institutions and pursue the possibility of achieving technological university status. I am advised by the education authorities that such a process will take some years, and will be determined by meeting the criteria established independently and not by any political decision.

Deputy Seamus Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk Zoom on Seamus Kirk If there is a meeting of minds by the management of DkIT and DCU, what pathway should they pursue to progress and reach the eventual synergy objectives which are clearly achievable? The Minister might advise on the dynamics needed to progress that.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn The HEA published a set of criteria on collaboration, joint ventures and a host of other ways in which, in the spirit of the Hunt report, the institutions can combine. Instead of having a binary system of universities and institutes of technology, we should have an integrated third level system. It is up to the institutions to start to explore that new territory and a prescriptive political directive will not come from the Department or HEA.

Deputy Seamus Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk Zoom on Seamus Kirk If some institutions, through a realistic formula for discussion, are prepared to meet the Minister and he could set out advice for them, would he be willing to do that?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I do not want to devalue the level and quality of third level education in this country by changing names. If institutions wish to aspire to a set of criteria that would give them the designation of technological university they have to meet that criteria. There will be no political interference from my Department or me on that matter. Otherwise we will devalue the entire third level sector in this country.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe A lot of the briefings on Waterford came from the Government. If change will not happen in the long term, I do not see the point. We talked about the amalgamation of schools. There is a clear need to amalgamate some ITs. The fact that most of them want to come together is positive, particularly in Dublin. Other supports need to be available.

One issue which may not be an issue for the Minister’s Department but another Department is accommodation supports for foreign students. A lot of accommodation is available through NAMA. We need some joined up thinking in the sector which will enhance its consolidation and growth.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I agree with the observations made by the Deputy and I can assure him that there is joined up thinking. It will be driven by the institutions. They will be given encouragement to make sensible, collaborative associations. We do not want political interference. These decisions should be made in the best interests of the totality of the institutions [292]and the education sector in which students at home and abroad will be attracted to participate in.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.

The Dáil adjourned at 4.46 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 January 2012.

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