Cork IT will not have to take on IT Tralee debt if merged, Minister pledge

Government ‘committed to the continued provision of higher education in Kerry ’

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the Government was “committed to the continued provision of higher education in Kerry Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the Government was “committed to the continued provision of higher education in Kerry Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

 

The Minister for Education has assured Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) it will not have to take on IT Tralee’s debts in the event that they merge to form a new university for the Munster area.

Rising deficits and cashflow problems at IT Tralee have been a key obstacle in the creation of a new Munster Technological University.

The Government recently provided €5 million in emergency funding to IT Tralee in order to keep the institution afloat.

There have been concerns within CIT over whether the institute would have to take on IT Tralee’s debts in the event of a merger.

However, in a recent letter to the chairs of both institutes’ governing bodies, Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the Government was “committed to the continued provision of higher education in Kerry” which was reflected in the “high level of financial support” provided to IT Tralee.

“In that context, there is no question that the actions to secure a resolution to the financial difficulties in IT Tralee would be expected to give rise to creation of a potential financial burden that would have the effect of undermining the financial stability, sustainability; and development of the potential MTU (Munster Technological University),” he wrote.

Uncertainty over the financial future of the institute was cited as one of a number of grounds as to why a joint bid between CIT and IT Tralee to become a technological university failed to get the green light earlier this year.

An international panel found the bid only partially met the requirements set out in legislation to secure technological university status.

A key concern was that the consortium needed more work on plans for managing academic, financial and administrative matters.

There were also “unanswered questions” regarding the specifics of how the two institutions “are to become one”.

In his letter, Mr McHugh confirmed that he is providing both institutions with a six-month window to prepare for another formal application in 2020.

He also set out conditions which the two institutions must comply with ahead of such as application.

These include greater focus on the strategic purpose and vision of the proposed university; establishing a joint governing body steering group to provide a focal point for “accelerated momentum” to prepare for a single, legal entity; and progress in meeting academic, financial and administrative issues.

These include increasing the percentage of research students from 4 to 7 per cent within ten year; increasing the proportion of academic staff with a doctoral or equivalent qualification from 45 to 65 per cent within 10 years.

Mr McHugh has requested progress reports on a two-monthly basis .

The letter also notes that the international panel did not receive information regarding the resolution of financial deficits at IT Tralee.

Mr McHugh said he understands that the Higher Education Authority is awaiting a “stability and sustainability” plan in respect of IT Tralee.

If this is approved, Mr McHugh said he aims to set up a working group to consider the requirement for “additional funding support to response to the systemic structural challenges” of the institute.

“These challenges arise from the institute’s small size, peripheral location, demographic profiles of its catchment areas and the high level of competition it experiences from other higher education institutions in the region,” the letter states.

It says a major element of the work of this group will be to assess how the potential transition to a technological university provides opportunities to “strengthen the profiles and offers in Tralee.”