The Technological Universities Act 2018 (the Act) was passed by both houses of the Oireachtas on 8 March 2018. The Act was signed into law by the President on 19 March 2018.
The main purpose of the Act is to allow for the mergers of two or more Institutes of Technology (IOTs) to create a new Technological University (TU), which was one of the key aims of the Government’s National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030. The Act was first introduced as a Bill in December 2015 and has undergone a number of changes since then, to deal with concerns raised by various stakeholders.
Functions of the Technological University
The Act provides that the TU must have particular regard to the needs of the area in which the campus is located and its main functions include:
- The provision of high quality teaching and learning which supports the needs of individuals, business, enterprise, the professions, community and local interest
- Engaging in high quality research
- Collaborating with stakeholders in the region in the design and delivery of an education programme which reflects their needs
- Supporting the development of a skilled workforce
- Serving the community and the public interest
- Promoting access to education and equal opportunity
Where two or more IOTs wish to merge and establish a TU, they may jointly apply in writing to the Minister for Education and Skills (the Minister). The applicants must meet certain criteria, which are set out in the Act. These include matters such as the composition of students and staff, the doctoral level and research activities of the merged IOTs and the ability of the applicant to perform the functions of a TU.
The Minister will be assisted in the decision-making process by an advisory panel, the Higher Education Authority and the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland.
Before finalising the decision, the Minister will advise of the proposed decision to allow for communication with the applicants before the decision is finalised. The Minister may also specify conditions, which the applicants are required to comply with in order to be eligible for TU status. Where these conditions are not met within a specified time-period, the application is deemed to have been refused.
Once a final decision has been reached, the Minister will issue it in writing to the applicants with reasons for the decision. The Act provides for a process to appeal the decision within 30 days.
Initially, the draft bill provided that the applicant IOTs must merge before they could apply for TU status. However, there were a number of concerns with this procedure as the IOTs could go through the process of merging and then fail to meet the criteria to be designated as a TU. The Act now provides for the application for merger and designation as a TU to be made at the same time.
The Act provides that all staff members of the applicant IOTs will become staff members of the TU under terms and conditions of service “which are not less favourable” than the terms and conditions of service, including those relating to remuneration, which the staff member was subject to previously, except in accordance with a collective agreement with a recognised trade union or staff association.
Governance of the TU
The TU will be governed by:
- A president whose terms and conditions will be approved by the Minister and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform
- A governing body with between 14 and 26 members made up of the president, chairperson, academic and non-academic staff, student representatives and external members
- An academic council made up of students and academic staff including staff members with business and professional experience and experience collaborating with external stakeholders. The academic council will control the academic affairs of the TU and its functions will include the development of education programmes, making recommendations on research, making recommendations on admission and assessment of students and implementing regulations of the TU
The Minister has the power to appoint an investigator to investigate and report on any matters of concern regarding the performance of a TU. The investigator is entitled to enter onto the premises of a TU to access records and equipment.
Development of a new type of Higher Education Institution
The introduction of the Act is a significant development for the IOT sector and will bring about huge changes for staff, students and the communities where the IOTs are located. A number of institutions are already involved in the merger process. The passing of the Act will now allow these applications to advance to the final stages.