Cork IT and IT Tralee row over senior roles in joint university

CIT president understood to be strongly opposed to any 50-50 split in senior roles

CIT president Barry O’Connor. Photograph: Darragh Kane

CIT president Barry O’Connor. Photograph: Darragh Kane

 

A row has broken out between Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and IT Tralee on the eve of the arrival of an international panel that is due to assess its joint bid to become a technological university.

IT Tralee, which would make up about 20 per cent of the merged institution, believes a signed agreement dating from 2014 entitles it to half of senior management and academic roles if the bid is successful.

However, CIT, which would make up 80 per cent of the planned Munster Technological University, wants up to 80 per cent of senior roles.

Internal documents seen by The Irish Times indicate this issue has emerged as a major obstacle in presenting a united front for the panel, which is due to visit Cork and Tralee this week and next.

In addition, there are growing tensions over who will foot the bill for mounting deficits at IT Tralee, which are estimated to be at least €10 million.

CIT’s governing body was told recently that in a worst-case scenario, this could rise to €21 million, according to sources.

The Cork institution is understood to be refusing to take on the Kerry-based institute’s debts if it merges.

IT Tralee is understood to have requested a multimillion-euro bailout package from the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education.

To date, however, there is no funding earmarked for a State-funded bailout.

Parity of esteem

Tension over the allocation of senior roles arises from an integration agreement signed in 2014, which committed both institutions to “parity of esteem”.

In a statement, Dr Brendan O Donnell, acting president at IT Tralee, said the integration agreement was a “cornerstone” of its ongoing partnership with CIT.

He said it would “guarantee the sustainability of both major campuses” following a merger and had been agreed by the governing bodies of IT Tralee and CIT in 2014.

“At a meeting last month with the Department of Education, both institutions reiterated their commitment to this agreement. Like any merger of this scale, there are complex challenges that need to be resolved, such as the current operating deficit at IT Tralee and the significant capital requirement at CIT. However, we remain committed to overcoming these challenges,” he said.

However, CIT president Barry O’Connor is understood to be strongly opposed to any 50-50 split in senior roles.

A spokeswoman for the president said work was ongoing over the organisational structures in consultation with external consultants PwC, which also advised on structures for the Technological University Dublin.

The international panel of experts is due to arrive on Wednesday and will meet with education partners and visit CIT later in the week, followed by a visit to IT Tralee early next week.

Mounting concern

There has been mounting concern over the solvency of IT Tralee due to major operational deficits and a major shortfall on its new Kerry Sports Academy.

An independent examination of the institution’s finances has found that it is overstaffed, losing money and experiencing significant cash-flow difficulties.

Internal Higher Education Authority documents also show there is “serious concern over the protracted nature of this funding crisis”.

In addition, there has also been alarm at the quality of information received from the institution as well as the capacity of the institute to resolve these problems.