Ireland's third technological university, and the first cross-regional one, TU Shannon is a multi-campus university spread across Ireland's Midwest and Midlands region.
The new university, which officially opened last October, has six campuses, spread across four counties and three provinces, a network of towns and urban centres, and one river.
The principal campuses are located in Limerick City and Athlone, but the new technological university also has campuses in Thurles, Clonmel and Ennis. It is expected to contribute €420m to the region's economy annually.
Prof Vincent Cunnane, president of TU Shannon Midlands Midwest, said the new educational entity is "very geographically dispersed".
“It’s a medium sized university now by European standards and one of the key aspects of the technological university was to get to a scale on the European side of things,” he said.
“Bringing together Limerick IT and Athlone IT has achieved that scale. It opens up a lot of opportunities for the future.”
The location is important, Prof Cunnane said, and has filled in a gap that was there previously.
“If you look at it from the Midlands point of view, there was no university there. It’s a region of 800,000 people now in the Midlands and the Midwest. The Midlands absolutely needed the technological university, and that will ensure that more people will be able to get a formal university-level education in that area,” he said.
It will also increase the opportunities available to residents in more rural areas, and enhance the regions.
“The creation of university towns in Clonmel, Ennis, these are huge developments for these towns, for the regions that they serve, for the ability to attract inward investment, for the ability to train graduates in those areas, getting jobs in the region, settling down in the region, and getting more opportunities,” he added.
The first few months of operation have been “dynamic”, Prof Cunnane said, largely due to the continued public health crisis.
The TU received €10 million in funding to bring the consortium together for non-capital costs.
“We’re dealing with the creation of a technological university in the middle of a pandemic. To have the full cohort back on the six campuses for the first semester, that in itself was an achievement,” he said.
“My job now is to merge those two entities Lit and AIT. It’s to create the conditions in which we can thrive as a technological university and now we’re a very large entity.”
As of February 2022, there were about 14,500 students enrolled in hundreds of courses across four counties, and more than 2,000 staff, with those numbers being just the starting point, and the entity envisaging “significant growth” in the coming years.
“Being only a few months olds, we haven’t yet had the benefit of bringing together that full expertise so jointly delivering programmes across multiple campuses, which is a real opportunity and will see significant growth in that space,” Prof Cunnane added.
“We’re at the very outset of this new entity, benefiting from what has happened today and becoming a technological university. But the opportunities that are embedded with that have not been realised just yet.”
That’ll be a key added value following the amalgamation of the institutes of technology, and so is the ability to do things differently, he said.
“We want to broaden and deepen a lot of activities that we do. We’re very aware of our heritage and where we come from: close links to industry, the applied nature of our research - these are things that will set us apart from the traditional universities,” he said.
There will also be a significant increase in the amount of research undertaken, with the type of research being carried out having higher technology readiness levels and having it closely aligned to industry, he added.
Another benefit of the institutes amalgamating to form one technological university is the ability to grow international student numbers.
“An institute of technology is a model that you have to explain what you stand for, whereas once you have university in the title, it’s an easier sell, so we will be able to show a large growth in our international student numbers by virtue of that.”
That will benefit not only the finances for the institution, but it will also provide a richer, more diverse cohort of students.
The provision of student accommodation is a sector-wide issue, and according to Prof Cunnane, the new TU is no different. He said it is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently by the State, especially if the TUs are to facilitate growth.
“Unfortunately, there is no onsite accommodation in the erstwhile Institute of Technology and now the Technological University sector because we haven’t had a borrowing capacity. But we work with private providers in and around the campuses to ensure we have as much as possible,” he said.
“It is a real issue; it is a current issue. It is a real limitation of our technological sector is the inability to build on-site purpose-built student accommodation to own and manage that to ensure the prices are affordable for our student body.”
In terms of areas of study, TU Shannon isn’t just technology and business, Prof Cunnane said, though he acknowledged they are important.
There are 152 undergraduate courses, 62 postgraduate courses and 700 research postgraduates available through the university.
“We have very strong programmes across engineering, technology, business, humanities and the arts. Technology, polymers and biotechnology would certainly be quite prominent. You have the social side of things as well, social care,” he said.
“We also have the renowned Limerick college of art and design which is one of the top 50 fashion schools in the world. There are plenty of things that we have a particular reputation in and we will not only be growing that, but enhancing it further.”
Prof Cunnane said the way in which programmes are taught is also quite different, with a particular focus on active learning, and blending theory with practical work.
“We have an active learning philosophy of theory and practice and bringing the two together. For research, that is more on the applied level,” he added.
Like many educational entities, the social life is just as much of a benefit as the academic life. The new TU has a vast array of clubs and societies, based on all of their campuses, to allow students to meet and connect with other people.
Some of the clubs include a hill walking club, orienteering, a film society and for young people seeking to resume their education after having children, there is even a young parents club.
For those with an interest in the arts, the Athlone campus in particular has a long history in the sector. The annual RTE Drama Festival takes place there, while there are three theatres off-campus, and a new purpose-built multi-disciplinary arts centre, Luan Gallery, and the Abbey Road Studios all near the campus.
WHAT SETS US APART
For over 170 years, the Limerick School of Art and Design has been recognised as one of Europe’s leading fine art, design and creative media schools.
The school operates on three of TUS: Midwest’s campuses, Clare Street and George’s Quay in Limerick city, and Clonmel in County Tipperary, and offers both Level 8 and Level 9 courses.
The Athlone campus hosts a €10 million international sports arena, which first opened in 2013. It features a six-lane 200-metre indoor running track, a sprint track, jump pits, pole vault area and shot putt area and can house 2,000 spectators.
It has hosted a variety of sporting events, including combined event championship for the Athletics Association of Ireland and the open indoor games.
Research is a central focus in the technological university, which has been enhanced by the provision of multi-disciplinary teams across the campuses and regions.
There are 20 centres and groups through which research is done, including the Bioscience research institute, the materials research institute and the software research institute.
On the Thurles campus there is a ‘SportsLab’, which the TU describes as an elite, state-of-the-art sports strength and conditioning facility.
Among the facilities in the 2,000 square metre lab is a unique 3D organic motion capture system for motion analysis, a 45m six lane sprint track especially designed to improve speed, a Paralympic area, cable machines, and an Olympic lifting platform.
On the Clonmel digital campus, there is a special focus on digital skills. It is the centre for innovative degrees including game art and design, digital animation, creative media and design and visual effects for film, TV and animation.
Total student number: 15,150
Study Options: 214 postgrad and undergrad courses
Undergrad/Postgrad breakdown: 13,262 undergrad and 1,888 postgrads
Campus locations: Limerick City, Athlone, Thurles, Clonmel and Ennis.
Bursaries and scholarships: L Goor Scholarships; Radisson Blu Scholarships; Panelto Foods Scholarships; Scholarships of Excellence; Sports Scholarships; Ericsson/ICT Skillnet Scholarships; 1916 Student Bursary; Uversity scholarships; Leaders@TUS Scholarships
Accommodation: None on campus, some private accommodation available near campus
Contact details: tus.ie