The people of Kerry might say it's been a long time coming: the Kingdom has its own university. At the same time, Cork now has a second university.
It's all because of the establishment of Munster Technological University (MTU), an institution founded from a merger of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and IT Tralee, which was formally established on January 1st, 2021.
"We were born in a storm, during the global pandemic," says Maggie Cusack, president of MTU. "It's amazing what we have managed to achieve in that time: to bring the university into being, to have a large geographic footprint and a broad subject base."
Cusack comes to the role having spent most of her career in Glasgow, including as dean of the University of Stirling and vice-president (physical science) of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She is MTU's inaugural president.
Cusack says MTU offers a “long ladder of opportunities” from apprenticeships through to degrees and PhDs.
Like all of the new technological universities, one of the key groups it hopes to reach are people who want to reskill and upskill, with short and longer courses sitting comfortably alongside each other, delivered through a mix of in-person and online learning.
“Already, we have seen successes in our Springboard and apprenticeship programmes, and we have been able to offer more of them,” says Cusack.
“One of our key differences is that we have very close links with industry; we are universities but we are not trying to be like traditional universities.
“We are about work-based learning and ensuring people are ready for work. One in five of our graduates have gained employment from their work experience, and innovation and entrepreneurship is in our DNA.”
The Rubicon on MTU's Cork campus and the Tom Creen Centre on MTU's Kerry campus are innovation centres for start-ups and indigenous entrepreneurs, and Cusack says they are integral to the university's mission.
"They don't stand separate from the university: our undergraduates have multiple opportunities to participate fully in them. Part of our ambition – as a nation – is to have a knowledge economy and ensure that the population is well educated and skilled. Whereas people outside Ireland may not have been as familiar with what an institute of technology is, universities sit in the global market for research and teaching, and we provide an educational and skills base for the whole southwest region."
Although a completely separate institute from UCC, the two universities run a number of joint programmes, including home economics and business teaching and a joint architecture programme.
And, while the “technological” in technological university might seem to imply a focus on science, technology, engineering and maths, MTU also has strong creative programmes in the MTU Cork School of Music and the MTU Crawford College of Art and Design, both in Cork city.
Dr Dan Collins, MTU's academic administrator and student affairs manager, says the university is beginning a strategic plan which will involve extensive engagement with students, staff, businesses and entrepreneurs, and the wider community and region.
“As one institution, we will have more opportunities for students across our campuses to get involved. Students will have greater Erasmus and other work experience opportunities too. But we will also have opportunities to generate more research funding both nationally and internationally, as well as [greater] opportunities for staff promotion and advancement.”
“Students are looking for a good, first-class academic qualification but we are also trying to encourage their holistic development as citizens: they will go on to serve their local, national and international communities,” says Collins. “The staff of the university – whether academic, professional, management or support – are all focused on the student experience.”
The university still retains its two separate student unions, with one in Cork and one in Kerry, and the ultimate aim is that they will work closely together while still representing their local members.
Sinéad O’Mahony is vice-president for welfare at MTU Cork’s students union. She says the university has a great sense of community.
“You are welcomed in with open arms, and the students are minded and looked after. There’s a strong sense of community and a feeling that there’s a local aspect to all of the courses. There are great support services, great clubs and societies and a real sense that the student comes first. You’re not just a number: the lecturers know you by name, and if you are having a rough time, you’re signposted to all the services you need. Every student voice is heard and we do feel listened to.
“When you go to college, you’re looking for both an education and the student experience, and I was well able to do both,” she says. “We have very practical hands-on courses that provide you with all the necessary tools for when you leave. You get to have so much face-to-face contact with staff and lecturers, which I don’t think you get as much of elsewhere.”
O’Mahony says the establishment of the university should lead to better infrastructure and resources across the university’s campuses – an issue that it is raising as part of MTU’s strategic plan.
“The main building in Cork is stuck in the 1970s, when it was built. And now that we are a university on the national and international stage, we still have students in poor conditions in some of the prefabs. The university is well aware of these issues, but we need funding and political backing.”
That said, O’Mahony points out that the college is developing a state-of-the-art sports arena, and this will provide more chances for students to pick up sports scholarships.
“I really think that we will be one of the best campuses in the whole country,” she says.
- Study options: Art and design, business, childcare, computer science, engineering, event management, health and leisure, humanities, media and communications, music, musical theatre, nursing, popular music, science, social care, theatre and drama are among the courses on offer at MTU's six main campuses
- Number of undergraduate students: 10,772 (full-time) and 2,764 (part-time)
- Number of postgraduate students: 706 (full-time) and 514 (part-time)
- Number of apprentices: 747
- Campus locations: These include the MTU Bishopstown Campus (which is the main Cork campus), the Kerry North Campus in Tralee, the Kerry South Campus in Tralee, the MTU Cork School of Music in Cork city, the MTU Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork city, and the National Maritime College of Ireland in Ringaskiddy, Cork Harbour, which provides training and education for the merchant shipping industry and the non-military needs of the Irish Naval Service, with degree programmes in nautical science, marine engineering, marine electrotechnology and logistics
- Student accommodation: There are a number of student apartments in the Bishopstown Campus area and more in Cork city. There are six dedicated student villages in Tralee. There are no apartment complexes in close proximity to the National Maritime College in Ringaskiddy, however
- Bursaries and scholarships: Scholarships are provided in recognition of academic or sporting excellence, with varying eligibility criteria and closing dates. For more information see mtu.ie/scholarships
What sets MTU apart
The first new university to be established in the southwest since 1845, MTU is an agile, ambitious, creative and entrepreneurial university which is set to expand rapidly and play a central role in the strategic development of the southwest region and Ireland more generally.
It is strongly connected with the world of work and with the communities in which it is embedded.
It is actively expanding its research and innovation portfolio in line with the needs of its stakeholders, and will build on the 500-plus start-up companies that it has helped to establish to date. It ensures that its six campuses in the southwest are made available to support the communities in which it operates and it is actively investing in new infrastructure. MTU plays a leadership role in the strategic development of the southwest region, and, in so doing, adopts a global outlook and a civic-centric value system.
Demand from CAO applicants has surged, with first-preference honours degree applications for MTU courses rising by more than 16 per cent, almost twice the national average. In addition, the KTI Annual Knowledge Transfer Survey 2020 indicated that total research expenditure in MTU exceeded €22 million, the highest total achieved across Ireland’s Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology.”
Michael Loftus is vice-president for external affairs at MTU