‘Critical’ need for investment in institutes of technology

Up to €400 million required over next five years to ensure sector is fit for purpose

Waterford Institute of Technology. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Waterford Institute of Technology. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

 

The State’s cash-strapped institutes of technology say they need up to €400 million over the next five years if they are prove fit for purpose to meet the needs of a growing number of students.

The representative body for the 14 institutes of technology says some colleges are in a financially vulnerable position and require investment to protect the quality of education.

The Technological Higher Education Association has written to the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe seeking a multi-annual funding package of up to €80 million annually until 2023, or just over €400 million.

Dr Joseph Ryan, the association’s chief executive, said investment is urgently required to re-equip and upgrade facilities.

“While it is clear that our physical infrastructure, equipment, and available resources have been adversely affected by a lack of investment during the economic crisis, it is also apparent that the time has come for central government and our sector to work in partnership to begin to re-equip, upgrade, and enable capacity and quality across a number of specific areas.

“The development of fit for purpose institutions is critical to enabling capacity from both a quality and quantity perspective,” he said.

While public commentary has tended to focus on how Irish universities have slipped down world rankings, the situation facing institutes of technology is much bleaker.

A report in 2016 by the Higher Education Authority previously flagged concerns that six institutes of technology were “vulnerable” and faced immediate sustainability challenges.

They included Letterkenny, Tralee, Galway-Mayo, Waterford, Dundalk and Cork institutes of technology.

It also highlighted concerns over risks facing the institutes of technology in Athlone, Limerick, Tallaght and Dublin (DIT) due to current or projected deficits or limited financial reserves.

Limited cash reserves

Unlike universities, these institutes are barred from borrowing funds and have a more much limited capacity to generate funds privately.

Dr Ryan said badly-needed investment was urgently needed to build fit for purpose laboratories and workshops in order to respond to skills gaps in the economy.

“This investment will allow us better to support our dedicated staff, to upgrade our infrastructure and equipment, ensuring that when our students graduate, they are work-ready, accustomed to working with industry-standard advanced systems,” he said.

While institutes were working to address deficits and limited cash reserves, they were also seeking to meet the needs of a growing number of students.

“Institutes need to find a way to maintain and renew physical infrastructure to the required standard to protect quality of provision and ensure a fit for purpose campus environment,” he said.

“In addition, they must find the additional capacity to meet growing levels of student demand.”

He said the recent designation of university status for Technological University Dublin was a “vote of confidence” in the sector.

Further designations are expected in the south east, Munster and Connacht/Ulster, while supporting the autonomous institutes in Athlone, Limerick, Dundalk and Dún Laoghaire.