06 November, 2019 – Ministers McHugh and Mitchell O’Connor announce €90m Technological University transformative fund at launch of Technological University Research Network report

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. and Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today (6 November 2019) welcomed the report of the TU Research Network (TURN): Connectedness & Collaboration enabled by Connectivity, which was presented to the Department by the TURN high level working group. 

Minister McHugh said: “Technological universities are a core part of this Government’s plan to meet the challenges facing us as an economy and a society.

 “The TURN group’s analysis outlines how TUs can be supported to focus on quality and excellence. The Government has responded both positively and swiftly. 

“As announced during Budget 2020 we are dedicating €90 million over the next three years to support our institutions to achieve TU designation and to support the further advancement of established technological universities. Great work is already underway, and I look forward to continued progress across all areas. 

“A network of technological universities in our regions will make a real difference in helping people to develop skills, to ensure balanced regional development and to meet the demands from digitalisation and technological disruption.” 

Speaking at an event to launch the report at the Department’s Marlborough Street campus, Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “As Minister for Higher Education I am deeply committed to supporting the development of technological universities in the State and established the legal framework for Technology Universities in Ireland in the Technological Universities Act, 2018. 

“The TURN report demonstrates that technological universities have a pivotal role in achieving the Government’s national strategic policies as set out in Project Ireland 2040, Future Jobs Ireland and Horizon Europe. 

“We believe in the transformative potential of technological universities. Our objective is to have a Technological University presence in every region of the country. This will provide increased choices for students, an enhanced student experience and greater access for potential students tackling educational disadvantage. 

“TUs will offer a deep and broad range of teaching, from apprenticeship to doctoral degrees. They will also support an increased intensity of research activity, which will deliver benefits for students, staff, employers and local communities, opportunities for collaboration with industry and benefits for the economy and wider society. 

“The TU ‘family’ now includes the new consortium of Athlone Institute of Technology and Limerick Institute of Technology, bringing the total number of institutes involved in TU development to 9, of 11 nationally. As the TURN report clearly demonstrates, they all recognise the unique opportunity we have now to create a new and highly effective type of institute of real substance, critical mass and reach in the higher education landscape.” 

Properly resourced and empowered TUs will provide a more diverse, flexible and dynamic tertiary education system. 

TUs will marry both an attractive physical multi-campus presence with state-of-the-art digital connectivity, providing new modes of learning where the student and learner is placed centre-stage and can access course content and avail of first-class tuition irrespective of location or circumstance. This will be achieved by focusing on the three main themes identified in the TURN report: reforming the policy and funding framework for TUs; investing in their digital infrastructure; and building and strengthening their research capacity. 

Each TU will serve as an anchor institution in the development and advancement of its region. Drawing frontier technological developments to regions through intensive collaboration, engagement with and connectedness to national and international researchers will be fundamental to TUs acting as regional knowledge hubs. These hubs will, in turn, act as major catalysts for further direct investment, research, innovation and employment growth in a self-generating virtuous circle. 

The report correctly emphasises that Government must continue to support TUs both in their pathway to establishment and in their vital formative years. There are critical actions that must be taken to ensure this happens as set out in the TURN report. 

Minister Mitchell O’Connor concluded: “The higher education multi-campus, digitally enhanced and research-oriented model and accompanying regional development transformation envisaged by TURN will be achieved through significantly increased levels of funding and through appropriate policy development, to give TUs the optimal conditions to succeed. Success for TUs is success for Ireland, regionally, nationally and internationally. It is success writ large for students, staff, employers and local communities. 

“Given the high quality, clarity and impact of this report and the dedicated and detailed work of TURN in its preparation, I have requested that the TURN group should continue with an expanded remit. This will ensure that new funding is prioritised and used as effectively as possible on a value-for-money basis to deliver the transformative, system-wide approach that will see more TUs being created and delivering significantly on regional development, socio-economic progress and related national strategic priorities.” 

Notes for Editors 

Background on the Technological University Research Network (TURN) 

TURN was established in February 2019 by the Department of Education and Skills to examine and report on how emerging TUs could achieve their sectoral and national strategic objectives and the supports that would be required for them to do so most effectively and efficiently. TURN comprises the President of TU Dublin and the Presidents of each institution of technology (IoT) participating in development consortia working towards TU designation, together with senior representatives from the Technological Higher Education Association, the Higher Education Authority and the Department. The group’s independent chairperson is leading academic and international expert in higher education transformation processes, Professor Philp Gummett from the UK. 

The TURN report can be accessed on the Department’s website at: https://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Education-Reports/connectedness-collaboration-through-connectivity.pdf 

The report sets out the case for a state change in higher education reform for the delivery of national strategic priorities such as are elaborated in Project Ireland 2040, the National Development Plan and Future Jobs Ireland. This is to be achieved through the connectedness, particularly at regional level, collaboration and connectivity of technological universities (TUs) and their unique delivery of programmes across the full range of the National Framework of Qualifications from apprenticeships to doctoral degrees. 

The report makes a series of 12 recommendations for outcomes that will provide TUs with a solid foundation for their development. These centre upon three thematic areas that TURN identified as the essential building blocks for successful TUs: 

  • investment in integrated multi-campus digital infrastructure to provide regional cohesion and to facilitate new modes of learning and the prioritisation of capital investment in TUs;
  • investment in research capacity building by developing researcher human capital, facilitating research activity and opportunities for existing academic staff and implementing a researcher career development and employment framework, addressing infrastructural deficits and prioritising research strategies within TUs, exploiting fully the mutually supporting roles of teaching and research; and
  • realignment of the policy framework and funding for TUs including an expansion of institutional autonomy and reform through the implementation of TU-apposite career structures, the reform of the grant allocation model to accommodate TUs, the creation of a dedicated TU funding stream including in the post-establishment phase and the creation of a borrowing framework for TUs. 

The report recognises that relevant priority actions can only be achieved through a structured, system-wide, relevant and dynamic process that will ensure value for money, underpinned by a robust and evidence-based set of monitoring and evaluation arrangements. 

TU Dublin was established on 1 January 2019 and is the largest higher education institution in the State with over 28,000 students. TU development consortia currently include the following 

  • The MTU consortium, comprising Cork IT and IT Tralee, submitted an application for TU designation in February 2019. The Minister for Education and Skills postponed the granting of the application until no later than the end of Q1 2020 subject to compliance by the consortium with specified conditions to achieve the required eligibility criteria under the Technological Universities Act 2018.
  • The TUSEI consortium, comprising IT Carlow and Waterford IT, is developing an application which it is expected will be submitted in the coming months.
  • The Connaught Ulster Alliance consortium, comprising Galway-Mayo IT, Letterkenny IT and IT Sligo, is developing proposals with a view to submitting an application in the course of the 2020/21 academic year.
  • Athlone IT and Limerick IT recently received 2019 funding for proposals through which the two institutions jointly agreed to form a development consortium with a view to making an application for TU designation.

In Budget 2020 the Minister for Education and Skills and Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education announced the launch of a major multi-annual transformation fund of €90 million for technological universities over the next 3 years. The TURN group will be involved in advising the Department and the HEA on the design and implementation of the new fund.

On 18 October 2019 Ministers McHugh and Mitchell O’Connor announced further funding of €14.25 million to higher education institutions under the Higher Education Authority 2019 call for submissions for higher education landscape restructuring, consolidation and collaborative projects. The majority of the government investment, €11.8m, is geared to progress the creation and expansion of technological universities. The remaining funding of €2.45m is aimed at other collaborative projects in line with the objectives of Project Ireland 2040 and initial teacher education policy. The full allocations for TU-oriented projects are as follows:

Exchequer funding allocations for TU projects (€ million) 

Project2019 AllocationTotal funding to date
TU Dublin3.813.08
MTU (Cork IT/ IT Tralee)2.06.30
TUSEI (IT Carlow / WIT)2.03.72
CUA (GMIT/ IT Sligo/ Letterkenny IT)2.05.92
Athlone IT/ Limerick IT2.02.00
Totals11.831.02

To date mainly through higher education landscape funding some €31 million in Exchequer funding has been provided for the development and progression of TUs. The existing landscape restructuring fund for TUs will now be replaced by the new TU Transformation Fund which will see TU oriented funding increase to over €120 million in total by 2023.