Deputy Lowry: 'This is a major step forward in the process.'

Plans advance for technological university with Tipp campuses

Clonmel and Thurles are on course to become university towns as early as next September following confirmation that the AIT-LIT Consortium has formally submitted its Technological University application to Government.

The new Technological University for the Mid-West and Midlands is expected to comprise a student population of up to 15,000 and a staff complement of approximately 1,200 people across six campuses - Thurles, Clonmel, Ennis, Athlone and two in Limerick.

The formal application for the joint elevation to Technological University status for both Limerick and Athlone Institutes of Technology was lodged on Friday last. The application seeks the dissolution of  both institutes and the subsequent establishment of a new university.

“This is a major step forward in the process and its success will also bring Technological University status to the satellite campuses in both Thurles and Clonmel,” said Deputy Michael Lowry.

The application was lodged in accordance with the Technical Universities Act with the overwhelming support of both Institutes of Technology and their stakeholders, including the Unions. Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, welcomed the application in a statement following its receipt.

The next step will be the appointment of an Expert Advisory Panel by the Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, from nominations provided by the Higher Education Authority and QQI (Quality and Qualifications Ireland). This panel will report back to the Higher Education Authority and they, in turn, report to the Minister. The Minister will make a preliminary decision at that point.

Following a detailed update to Deputy Michael Lowry in October, Minister Harris, stated that if an application was submitted by the end of this year, a decision could be made in the summer of 2021 and it would be possible that a new Technological University, subject to all the approval processes, could be established in 2022.

This would be a enormous boost to both Institutes and also to both Thurles and Clonmel said Deputy Lowry. “There is no doubt that it would have a transformative effect on the education and enterprise landscape of the county. It has been proven in many other cases that a local University, producing highly qualified graduates, will enhance the opportunities for inward investment and for job creation. Athlone and Limerick Institutes of Technology together have a student population of almost 14,000 and  some 1,300  staff, including those based in the Tipperary satellite campuses.”

Minister Harris also revealed to Deputy Lowry that under the terms of a new European Universities Initiative, this AIT/LIT consortium will join what is called RUN EU, the Regional University Network in the European Union. “This is a way of creating one of several new European Universities capable of transcending languages, borders and disciplines. This is a project that is being worked on at EU level and is expected to be completed by 2024,” stated Minister Harris.

On October 7th the minister announced the first tranche of funding under a new Transformation Fund overseen and administered by the Higher Education Authority to assist the creation and development of technological universities. The Athlone and Limerick Institutes of Technology consortium was allocated €5 million under this tranche, bringing to €7 million in total the Exchequer funding provided to date to progress their proposals.

Academic unions in both LIT and AIT have voted overwhelmingly in favour of measures contained in the Technological University project plan.

Commenting on the application, President of LIT, Professor Vincent Cunnane said: “We are on a pathway to deliver a unique new Technological University that will cross regions and transcend geography.  While this will be an institution of scale, it will retain the familiarity of local campuses across two significant regions.  This enables us to act as a regional development powerhouse into the future, delivering education and research that will benefit students, educators, communities, business and industry in a strategic way.  Our approach is based on partnership and consensus, and is indeed underpinned by consultation with staff, students and other stakeholders.  The consortium has a strong set of shared values and a shared ethic that provides a firm foundation to deliver on our future strategy.”

The development has also been welcomed by Limerick City and North Tipperary TD Kieran O'Donnell and Senator Garret Ahearn.

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