We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Teachers' Union of Ireland members met in Killarney in recent days. Tommy Clancy

'Sinking feeling' among lecturers as they vote to express alarm over state of TU sector

During a union conference in Killarney, staff spoke in stark terms about the future of the nascent sector.

LECTURERS VOTED TO express alarm at the direction of Ireland’s Technological Universities (TUs), amid a raft of conference motions calling for urgent action to reverse the sector’s funding struggles.

During the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) annual congress in Killarney this past week, staff spoke to The Journal in stark terms about a “sinking feeling” over the future of the nascent sector.

They also spoke of concern that courses, often from smaller campuses, are being scrapped without consultation with staff.

Some put this down to concerns around finances for the TUs and an attempt to alleviate what one lecturer described as a “rubbish funding model” for the sector.

Ireland’s five TUs were formed following a series of mergers of more than a dozen institutes of technology scattered around the country.

However, some have run into problems as they try to meld the separate organisations into a cohesive whole, often spanning more than 100km and several counties.

A legal borrowing framework to allow TUs to receive funds to develop new facilities, similar to longstanding universities, is not yet in place despite government promises made over the past four years.

As reported by The Journal previously, promises to move the former institutes of technology to a new gold standard have fallen flat for a number of TUs, amid a significant fall in enrolments and major funding struggles.

Key among the problems cited by management and unions has been the stalled funding for new contracts and new disciplines, in the likes of pharmacy medicine, to help move TUs to the promised university standing.

The new TUs include TU Dublin (arising from an amalgamation of Dublin, Blanchardstown and Tallaght ITs), the Technological University of the Shannon (previously Limerick and Athlone ITs) and the South East Technological University (previously Waterford and Carlow ITs). The others are Munster Technological University (formerly Cork and Tralee ITs) and the northwest’s Atlantic Technological University (an amalgamation of ITs in Letterkenny, Galway-Mayo and Sligo).

Lecturers in Munster TU described a “sinking feeling” to The Journal, saying that they fear smaller campuses are going to be left behind or lost due to the amalgamations of its six campuses spread across the southwest.

They said that, in one instance, a lecturer discovered that their course had been dropped from their Tralee campus upon reading the CAO entries in the paper. It was retained in the Cork city campus.

This situation is arising from similar courses having run in two separate IoTs before the creation of the technological universities.

An ongoing process taking place in each TU is seeing courses ‘aligned’ so that they are cohesive across the wider educational organisation.

The Journal has heard examples from other TUs which are maintaining arrangements where programmes are shared between campuses, while trying to carry out an ‘alignment’ of their courses.

Other lecturers at the TUI conference in the INEC Hotel in Killarney this week told of similar experiences around the sudden drop of some courses.

Eddie Conlon, a longtime Dublin-based union member, told delegates 14 programmes had been removed from the CAO at TU Dublin without consultation with staff.

Therese Higgins, biological science lecturer in MTU, said that as courses have been retained in the larger Bishopstown campus that was once known as Cork IT, it means the former justification for having IoTs in the region is being “turned on its head”.

The other main campus is at IT Tralee – but there are also smaller campuses spread around Cork, covering disciplines including music and naval engineering.

It heightens the fear that the ‘junior partner’ campuses joining with larger ones to become TUs now stand to lose courses and that it will become harder to maintain staff and students at those campuses.

The secretary for Munster TU’s union branch, Tom Doyle, said he had spent two years on its governing body working on the amalgamation.

“There was a lot of goodwill and morale for this project but here we are three years later and morale is sinking,” Doyle said.

Doyle and Higgins both fear the merger turning into nothing more than a “rebranding exercise” for all involved.

Higgins added:

If it’s rebranding based on rationalisation, that’s another thing. The concern is that we’re going to be looking at peeling off courses without establishing principles beyond the ‘cha-ching’.

Una Kealy, health and leisure lecturer at MTU’s Tralee campus, said that for her one of the “big ticket numbers that hasn’t been finalised” is regional provision – the resourcing of courses and facilities in each campus.

Now in her fourth decade of teaching, she pointed to the origin of the IoTs and, further back, the Regional Technical Colleges and what their purpose was.

“They were to bring growth and vitality to disparate parts of the country so that people didn’t all have to go up to Dublin or other cities to get an education and qualification,” Kealy said.

“Some of the students I have are people who can’t travel further and really benefit from being able to get an education in north Kerry, whether that’s because of work or family commitments, or because they’re going back to get an education they didn’t have a chance for before.”

She added that a key focus of the TU sector has been attracting international students.

“We’re looking to sell Irish education. I don’t have a difficulty with that necessarily but it shouldn’t be your starting point and I think it has been from the start.”

Some union members fear that the recent exit of the president of TU Dublin, who is to take a post in Malaysia amid serious financial struggles at the TU, may mean more in leadership will leave their roles. This was echoed by the views of staff in the South East TU which has seen the highest fall in enrolments over the past two years.

On the exit of Professor David Fitzpatrick from Dublin and other senior figures, Conlon told delegates this week: “It’s scary to see management leaving, this ‘flight of the Earls’ while the sector is still trying to gain a footing.”

The Department of Further and Higher Education has sought to quell concerns around the sector, telling The Journal that any fall in enrolments may be due to more students choosing honours degrees instead of Ordinary and Certificate courses.

MTU and SETU were contacted for comment but not reply by the time of publication.