LIMERICK Institute of Technology has ‘cautiously welcomed’ the most recent document published by the Higher Education Authority that suggests that institutions in the region are likely to avoid any cull in a reconfiguration of the third level education landscape in Ireland.
A document published this week by the Higher Education Authority provides an outline structure for the third level sector and recommended that the University of Limerick and Mary Immaculate College would deepen their existing links and “form one integrated centre for teacher education”.
It also calls on them to foster closer links with both Limerick Institute of Technology and IT Tralee.
The document notes that discussions to date in respect of a full merger of UL and Mary I “have proved inconclusive and will require some more time to develop an approach that can meet the objectives of the teacher education review”.
The four institutions already collaborate closely through the Shannon Consortium, but the HEA envisages that they would form a ‘regional cluster’ for the Mid-West, one of five regional groupings nationally.
This echoes what LIT president Dr Maria Hinfelaar has said in recent weeks, while the Irish Universities Association - the umbrella group on whose council UL president Professor Don Barry sits - have called for the same regional clustering to take place.
The association ruled out any “forced mergers”, which appear unlikely given the direction of the HEA’s own report, and allow for the separate institutions to continue to function autonomously.
Dr Hinfelaar said recently that LIT were focussing on developing its own autonomy and on deepening collaboration with its regional partners.
The LIT president insisted that the institution was merely following direction from Government in abandoning plans for technological university status.
“The landscape has changed, and we had to take a decision in light of evolving national policy,” she explained.
Responding this week to the latest document published by the HEA, Dr Hinfelaar welcomed the apparent acceptance by the HEA of LIT’s “future as an autonomous institution”.
“It is clear that the HEA endorses LIT’s decision to remain as a stand-alone institute of technology with a strong and distinct focus on enterprise,” she explained.
“LIT itself is already the result of a consolidation process through the incorporation of the former Tipperary Institute, with campuses in Thurles and Clonmel that now complement our strong presence in Limerick City where we have our main campus adjacent to Thomond Park and the state-of-the-art LSAD campus on Clare Street. We are a proud institution with roots going back to 1852, we are the IOT of the Year, we are financially strong - and why should we give up that identity.”
All of these moves follow an address by Minister Ruairi Quinn to higher education leaders at the end of last year, when he said there was a need to “achieve critical mass through consolidation”, indicating the road-map the institutions should follow.
The HEA said it intends to hold further discussion with the institutions in February, before providing advice to the minister in March.