LIMERICK Institute of Technology has shelved plans to develop a Munster Technological University and will instead focus on developing its own autonomy and on deepening collaboration with its regional partners.
The move marks a significant turnaround from the college’s earlier stated intention to band together with Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Tralee.
LIT president Dr Maria Hinfelaar has insisted that the institution is merely following direction from Government.
“The landscape has changed, and we had to take a decision in light of evolving national policy,” explained Dr Hinfelaar of LIT, which was named Institute of Technology of the Year in the Sunday Times’ University Guide 2013.
“It is no good burying your head in the sand and saying what appeared to be the right decision a year ago, is now different, we have to face up to that.
“It would be very unwise for LIT to continue down a path which does not have policy or political support, and to be ploughing resources into that, only to find that the designation as a technical university is not going to happen. It is certainly not lowering our ambition level, this is actually strengthening our ambition to set the standard to be a very strong IT.”
The moves comes directly on foot of an address made by education minister Ruairi Quinn to higher education leaders at the end of last month, plus the publication of new policy documents by the Higher Education Authority.
These statements flew in the face of LIT’s adopted proposal to form a technological university, while also contradicting a report prepared by leading international experts on the configuration of the higher education sector and recommended a merger of third-level institutions.
Yet LIT already collaborate closely with regional institutions through the Shannon Consortium - University of Limerick, Mary Immaculate College and IT Tralee.
“What changed in November was the minister’s speech, and that is crucial to all of this, because in that speech it became very clear that the number one priority is forming regional clusters and in our case, we already have a strong collaboration with UL, Mary I and Tralee and the priority now needs to be to deepen that,” explained Dr Hinfelaar.
The LIT president did note that the IT sector had been subject to “mixed messages” from Government.
“We have had mixed messages since the publication of the Hunt report,” she explained.
“We need to respond to those messages, we need to influence them and we need to try and establish what is the best position for LIT and particularly for our students and for industry and community in the region.”
LIT recently unveiled its €200m plus ‘Campus 2030 Masterplan’, representing a significant stimulus for the region plus an anticipated minimum 30% expansion of its student body to over 9,000 full-time students and Dr Hinfelaar said this latest move would serve to strengthen that process.
“I think it will help,” she explained. “The plans for our campus masterplan were drawn up for LIT as an autonomous institution, as we currently are. We can sit down now as partners and speak for the autonomous LIT as we are now into the next number of decades, not having to bring in the complexity of whether we are going to be part of a bigger organisation.”
The decision has not been without controversy, with LIT lecturer Dr Frank Houghton claiming the decision not to proceed with the application for technological university status would perpetuate “social and educational inequalities in Ireland” and was a short-sighted decision that would “harm both the Institute and the people of the Mid-West in the long-term”.
Responding to the claims, Ms Hinfelaar said Mr Houghton was “entitled to express his personal view”, but pointed to the fact that the decision “went through a very rigorous process of discussion and it was a unanimous one”.