Just last week, the five institutes of technology (ITs) in Ireland’s border, midlands and west (BMW) region announced their plan to create a technological university there. Now the heads of the ITs in Limerick, Tralee and Cork have also announced their plans to create a Munster Technological University (MTU), with the aim of strengthening the region’s educational prowess and enhancing links with local industry.
Since the publication of the Hunt Report (National Strategy for Higher Education) in January 2011, the three presidents of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), Institute of Technology Tralee (IT Tralee) and Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) have been working to set the Munster Technological University (MTU), which they say would have campuses in Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare and Tipperary and an initial enrolment of more than 24,000 students.
Dr Maria Hinfelaar, president, LIT, said that since the report came out last year, the ITs have been forced to rethink how they would view themselves in the new landscape and to reposition themselves.
For the Munster region, she said that along with Dr Brendan Murphy (CIT president) and Dr Oliver Murphy (IT Tralee president) they developed a new model for the creation of the technological university and also consulted international experts with experience in the area.
"Prof Simon Marginson, an Australian expert on higher education, played a major role, while Prof Robin Smyth from the UK also gave advice. He had experience of when the polytechnics in the UK were converted into universities," said Hinfelaar.
She said the three presidents are confident the MTU will meet the criteria for technological university status when the Higher Education Authority (HEA) finalises its recommended criteria for the institutes of technology in Ireland. Once the HEA releases its proposed criteria it will then go to the Education Minister for approval.
Demand for higher education in Ireland
Incidentally, Hinfelaar is also chair of Institutes of Technology Ireland (IOTI) this year. Under this hat, she spoke about how the demand for higher education is going to "soar" in Ireland due to massive increases in the population.
"When you think of the 14 institutes of technology in Ireland, including DIT, and the aim to consolidate them down to four, it’s about increasing the pathways for students to receive higher education and to manage and use resources better."
Hinfelaar spoke about how the institutes have evolved over the years, particularly in the areas of applied research, and especially with the incubation centres at the ITS which are spinning out new companies from research and creating jobs.
Taking LIT as a case in point, Hinfelaar spoke about the bioscience project there, which has been a "step change" in that it is part of the FP7 programme with the EU.
Building on current strengths
But back to the plan for the MTU and Hinfelaar said the technological university would build on the strengths of LIT, IT Tralee and CIT.
She also indicated that an integral aim of the university, with its distributed presence across the region, would be to enhance its capacity to work in partnership with local businesses, industry and the professions.