Munster Technological University plan may not proceed over financial troubles
After years in the pipeline, the impending merger of two Irish higher education institutions to create a new technological university for the Munster area may not happen after all.
According to reports, an international panel has raised red flags over the financial health of one of the institutions involved–the Kerry-based Institute of Technology Tralee (IT Tralee).
Ireland’s Higher Education Authority (HEA) will be reviewing the panel’s report this week, after which it will issue a formal recommendation to the government whether or not to create the new university. Citing sources familiar with the report, however, The Irish Times said the merger isn’t likely to proceed.
Had the panel’s report been more positive, plans for the Munster Technological University (MTU) would have been announced within weeks. The university would have been one of the country’s largest third-level institutions with more than 18,000 students.
But that the merger has hit a snag doesn’t come as a surprise.
News about IT Tralee’s financials have been in the headlines since last year. An unpublished report by Deloitte found the institution to be overstaffed and facing major cashflow problems.
Having run operational deficits of between EUR1 and EUR2 million for several years, the institute is said to be mired in debt to the tune of EUR10 million which, according to sources, may rise to EUR21 million.
This was only exacerbated by the recent opening of the Kerry Sports Academy building, which set the institute back a further EUR3 or EUR4 million. The cost of running the building, meanwhile, will rack up bills of anywhere between EUR50 and EUR100,000.
The institute is believed to have sought a multi-million euro bailout from the Department of Education but to no avail. An Irish Times report said IT Tralee’s merger partner, the Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), is refusing to take on the debt, throwing plans further awry.
A spokesman for the Department of Education has refused to comment on the matter, only saying the HEA has received the panel’s report and would review it before making a recommendation.
“Once the recommendation is received the Minister for Education and Skills exercises a statutory decision-making role. While this process is underway it would not be appropriate to comment,” the spokesman was quoted saying in The Irish Times.
As part of a push to elevate Ireland’s higher education system and meet the country’s innovation needs, the government in its National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 had urged the country’s technology institutes to consolidate to create technological universities (TUs).
These universities are meant to help address the social and economic needs of the region they’re located in. Their mission and ethos are aligned with that of the technology institutes, but with an emphasis on industry-focused research.
To create the university, the institutes would have to form a consortium and send a merger proposal to the government. To get accepted, they must meet certain standards encompassing areas such as staff qualifications, research input quality, and the proportion of students engaged in lifelong learning, among others.
The MTU bid was proposed back in 2014. But apart from IT Tralee’s cash flow problems, the proposal has also faced with opposition from the two institutes’ teaching staff.
Last month, members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) voted by large majorities (83 percent in CIT and 75 percent in IT Tralee) to reject negotiations on the merger, claiming there was a lack of engagement by management in working out operational details.
The institutions are also locking horns over the share of senior management posts – CIT, which is meant to make up 80 percent of MTU, wants 80 percent of posts in senior roles while IT Tralee claims its 2014 agreement with the former entitles it to half the number of senior management and academic roles.