Minister for Education Jan O'Sullivan has told Waterford Institute of Technology that it will not achieve university status unless it resumes talks with IT Carlow on a planned merger.
In a meeting this morning described as "tough and frank", the Minister and her officials told management at Waterford IT that the Government had no intention of rolling back on the criteria for newly designated Technological Universities.
To gain such status, there must be a merger between at least two institutes of technology and the collective bidders must satisfy performance targets set by the Higher Education Authority.
On Tuesday, the governing body of Waterford IT decided to “suspend all activities related to merger” after an analysis showed that the partnership with IT Carlow would bring down its scores under a number of headings.
While WIT said it remained “committed to a technological university in the south east which will have a significant economic and social impact”, it feared the merger would delay achieving this goal by several years with no ultimate guarantee of success.
WIT president Dr Ruaidhrí Neavyn was summoned to this morning's meeting at the Department of Education along with WIT deputy chairman Jack Walsh, a Labour party councillor. The institute's chairman Dr Donal Ormonde is abroad this week.
IT Carlow said it was “surprised and disappointed” by WIT’s announcement, coming just a week after the signing of what it called an “historic” partnership agreement.
Today, however, lecturing staff at IT Carlow said they had concerns about the proposed merger, citing lack of consultation or proper accountability.
In a statement, the local branch of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) which represents such staff said lecturers feared the plan amounted to “a takeover of IT Carlow by Waterford, thereby removing the local autonomy that has been key to the success of IT Carlow in serving the region”.
It said: “This process looks likely to undermine the regional mission that IT Carlow has very successfully carried out to date and hamper its ability to meet the needs of the local community and local industry, and there is a grave danger that there may never be a technological university at the end of a merger process.”
Two bids for Technological University status have already been submitted to the HEA, and have got an initial stamp of approval from an external committee.
These are bids by DIT, Tallaght IT and Blanchardstown IT in the greater Dublin area and a southern bid by Cork IT and IT Tralee.
A third bid is also in train comprising Letterkenny, Sligo and Galway-Mayo institutes of technology in the northwest.
While Waterford IT has complained that it has been leapfrogged by other bidders, Department officials argue that the institute has only itself to blame for not preparing an application yet.