Bringing higher education into every region of Ireland

Technological universities are not intended to be the same as traditional universities, writes Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education.

This is a really exciting time for third-level education in Ireland. We are working to create a truly unified system ensuring better access and more pathways to further and higher education for people of all ages.

We have worked to place further education and apprenticeships on the CAO website ensuring a school-leaver sees all of their options when considering their next steps in life.

This has been successful as we have seen record numbers of people apply to become apprentices in 2021.

It is my strongly held view that the conversation about education has been too narrow. This has resulted in one form of third-level education being given more prominence above others including further education, or doing an apprenticeship.

This has not served us well. This has led to significant stress and pressure on our young people.

It has also caused a number of skills shortages in our country.

That is why I am driving an agenda of reform and I want to focus on one particular part of that plan today and that is our Technological University (TU) agenda.

You may have heard about this and are maybe wondering what it is all about. I want to tell you a little bit about TUs and why I believe they are and can be a game changer for third-level education but also for balanced regional development.

Today, we have four technological universities across the country. We have TU Dublin, Munster TU, Technological University of the Shannon and the Atlantic Technological University.

Next month, we will have a fifth in South East Technological University.

These technological universities are not intended to be the same as our traditional universities and they are not simply name changes. Technological universities are designed to bring higher education into every region in the country.

It is not right or fair to expect people to have to pack their bags and leave home for four years to complete a university degree.

All roads for education cannot lead to our big cities. We have to ensure people have the opportunity to study, live and work in our regions.

A TU can offer a student of any age the whole gamut of higher education provision.

They train apprentices, they do research of all types, they engage with industry ensuring the courses offered match the skills business and enterprise need.

They promote access to higher education, they foster lifelong learning, and they embed themselves regionally.

These are new institutions, which require investment and support.

As I see it, this is a process or a journey and we are coming to the end of the second phase of the TU agenda.

The first phase was the work that saw the Technological Universities Act enacted in March 2018.

The second phase from 2019 to date has been the designation and establishment of a network of TUs spanning all the regions of the country.

The third phase is to address funding of TUs. We have established a Technological University Transformation Fund to support the establishment of the new institute and we will soon launch a new ring-fenced fund for research projects for TUs.

Universal approach

There is some differentiation in the costing approach as between traditional universities and the TUs.

As part of the proposals I will bring to Government on funding third-level education in the future, we will be recommending moving away from that “two-pot” funding approach and towards a universal approach to supporting all higher education institutions.

Levelling the funding playing field will enable TUs to make real inroads.

We have also given TUs access to funding to build student accommodation. This is absolutely critical to ensuring their success and we will work with them to turn plans into a reality.

As a Government, we know we have a lot to do to match funding and improve the infrastructure of our TUs.

We believe TUs have the ability to transform education. They can attract foreign direct investment into regions, creating thousands of jobs.

They will ensure better regional development. For staff, they will bring new academic contracts.

The potential of TUs are enormous. If you are a school-leaver, or a parent of one, consider what you would really like to do and take it from there.

Do not choose a particular path because your family wants you to. Do not narrow your options too soon.

Consider them all. Consider our TUs. Consider supporting, living, studying and working in our regions.

Our TUs are about ensuring you do not have to travel far to access high-quality education.

Education is about opening doors and options, locally, regionally, virtually and internationally. It is not about closing or narrowing them.

Our third-level education system must continue to learn, to grow and to develop. Our TU agenda is only just getting started.

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