Worries over €6.7m cost of merging Cork and Tralee ITs

Merging institutes in university bid need to show more ‘loyalty’, says expert group

Fine Gael TD John Deasy: ‘Nobody seems to know what is going on in these institutions.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Fine Gael TD John Deasy: ‘Nobody seems to know what is going on in these institutions.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

An expert panel assessing the bid for a technological university in Munster has criticised plans by the merging institutions to retain parallel management structures at added cost.

The group of international experts suggests the institutes of technology in Cork and Tralee need to show more “loyalty” to the new institution rather than trying to retain control over existing campuses.

Last week, the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard that the projected cost of the merger was €6.7 million, with €300,000 spent by Cork IT alone on due diligence.

Tom Boland, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority (HEA), said it expected most of these costs would be covered by “efficiencies” and raising funds through other sources.

“Mergers are very expensive,” he said, and in an ideal world the State might pick up the tab but only “a small contribution” had been made.

Expert panel

“We have already expressed reservations about the tripartite academic management structure. We understand the proposers’ reasoning but remain unconvinced,” the report says.

“It will also be essential in this regard to display to all stakeholders a palpable sense of unitary purpose among the leadership team, including a sense of loyalty henceforth to the new institution.” (The word “new” is underlined in the report.)

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan is to publish the Technological Universities (TU) Bill in the current Dáil session.

This will create a process whereby institutes of technology can apply for TU status if they meet certain criteria under headings ranging from research capacity to teaching staff qualifications.

Along with the Cork-Tralee consortium, Dublin Institute of Technology is seeking TU designation under a merger with IT Blanchardstown and IT Tallaght.

Concerns

PAC chairman and Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness criticised the HEA and Department of Education for giving incomplete information to the committee about the State’s potential liabilities.

The committee heard that almost €400,000 had been spent to date on the planned merger between Waterford IT (WIT) and IT Carlow, which is now stalled due to a disagreement between the parties.

Waterford TD John Deasy, for Fine Gael, said “nobody seems to know what is going on in these institutions” and there was a case for “drilling down into the governing bodies to find out what can be rescued from this.”

However, department secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú said discussions were at a delicate stage.

“Do I think it would be helpful to bring all the reasons why the process broke down into open public discussion and have a broad-ranging debate about it?

“No, I don’t, to be frank,” Mr Ó Foghlú said.

The committee heard WIT has a debt of €8.2 million, mainly due to an overrun on the building of new student accommodation at Carriganore. Originally costed at €2.5 million, it is now being budgeted at €7 million. Some €5 million needs to be raised to complete the project.