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Technological Universities: The Shotgun Marriages

March 2, 2014

Shotgun Marriage
What with all of the hullabaloo surrounding the creation of Technological Universities, it is time to cut through the hype and look at the grim reality. In this the first piece in a series, we look at the ever-shifting proposed mergers and TU hopefuls and ask what the hell is really going on?

The Shotgun Marriages
The over-riding reason for the creation of TU’s is  financial: reduce the number of third level institutions, eliminate the duplication of courses and save money, or so the logic goes. All other considerations are subservient to this line of reasoning, for which no justification or supporting evidence is required.

Institutions with no history of cooperation (IT Tralee and Cork IT for example), or, even worse, with a history of mutual antagonism (IT Carlow and Waterford IT), are to be thrown together “to save money.” Multi-campus institutions, with all of their inherent quirks, duplications, management layers and roving personnel are somehow going to be more efficient.

Having Better RGAMs
The financial stick being wielded by the Higher Education Authority is its funding mechanism, the RGAM (recurrent grant allocation model), which penalizes smaller institutes and transfers funding to larger ones. RGAM has pushed the smaller institutes into insolvency and in desperate need of a benefactor.

The choice of groom is left to the individual brides, but to have good quality RGAMs, they must find a  larger partner. For the bigger institutions the carrot is student numbers: to apply for TU status the benchmark of at least 10,000 full-time students was set by the Marginson report for the minimum size appropriate for TUs. The result has been a chaotic tumble of suitors and sugar-daddies, threesomes, foursomes and moresomes, jilted brides and one night stands.

One day Dundalk IT is on its way to the altar with Athlone, Galway-Mayo, Letterkenny and Sligo ,  the next day it has gotten cold feet.  One minute Letterkenny IT is announcing that it is happy with its singleton status, the next Galway-Mayo IT is claiming that they are already engaged. To make matters worse (and the shotgun all the more evident) the Minister of Education continues to insist the wedding is going ahead, raising further protestations  from the reluctant bride-to-be.

Playing Hard to Get
Athlone IT having flirted with TU status then decides to leave their partners hanging, having been warned off by the HEA. The terms of Limerick IT’s  prenuptial agreement with Cork and Tralee had only been drawn up when second thoughts crept in and scuppered that union. This left the jilted Tralee and its financial problems to flee into the arms of Cork.

HaremIn Dublin, the three smaller IT’s were being wooed to join DIT’s rapidly expanding harem, with promises of guaranteed TU status and a sparkly new campus in Grangegorman, only for IADT to storm off in a huff because of the sleeping arrangements.

The other front-runner, Waterford IT’s union with Carlow IT, comes with so much baggage that, even with the counselling of WIT’s current President (a former President of Carlow IT), one domestic dispute could well see the wedding postponed indefinitely.

Mergers or Acquisitions?
In all of this extraordinary carry-on, one thing is evident: the proposed mergers have no educational or even institutional rationale. They are at best marriages of convenience driven by politics, personalities and expediency of the lowest form, forced by the government’s continuing divestment in education. What is remarkable is that only the smallest ITs have in effect been acquired by larger ones, and any of the proposed mergers of the larger ITs have been long abandoned.

The level of nonsense being put out by politicians and presidents about these awful goings-on has been spectacular. Predictably, Fine Gael and Labour politicians have been the quickest into their cheerleading dresses, with Sinn Fein following not far behind. Not to be outdone, according to one IoT president, TU’s will lead the country out of recession, while IBEC continues in its call for students to pay for more of this nonsense.

Preparing for the Axe
Unfortunately, merging is no guarantee of TU status and, contrary to official narratives within the institutes, is an irreversible process. Once merged, separate institutions will no longer exist and the second stage of the true agenda, cutting courses, will engulf the IoT sector. Redeployment, reassignment and significant contract changes are all then on the cards as the real point of the exercise manifests itself.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2014 9:14 am

    There is nothing in the TU criteria about a requirement for a minimum of10,000 students; a basic premise of this article is therefore incorrect

  2. dim.tim permalink
    March 3, 2014 12:16 pm

    A bit of truth to this, what WIT (where I hang my hat) is being offered increasingly looks like a bait and switch. We applied for university status under the previous act- basically looking for university resources for the South-East of Ireland, we were not that fussed about the title/designation or the institutional fluster that is involved in all the change. All current indicators show that the South East did not really participate in the boom, and is suffering most in the bust. The recent HEA document towards a performance evaluation framework offers a glimpse of the SE region is continually stuffed by the more politically effective regions, the capital story at WIT is even unfair-er.

    So after two ministers for education for Cork (Batt and Michael), we thought we might get some time in the sun under this crowd. Their form is not good- with Labour having stuffed up the 1997 reform. If that had worked we would be much better placed to meet the needs of the region. Alas it appears that they appear to be doing the same this time out. It increasingly looks like poor old Quinn in being played by his department and the HEA to deliver stasis. Tom Boland has stopped talking about mission drift and is now actively ensuring that their is none.

  3. March 3, 2014 1:13 pm

    In ‘fairness’ to the Minister and the HEA, I think they genuinely do believe that merging institutions will make the system better. This is a sort of mania that grips the Irish political and civil servant mindset. It led to the creation of the HEA among other failures. It all sounds so plausible (all that critical mass!) and the result is that the same mistake is repeated again and again. Irish Water anyone? Even if the idea is good, we invariably make a balls of it. Furthermore, I think that politicians (especially Ruairi Quinn who has assumed the role of educational ‘expert’) and the IBECs of this world do actually believe that TUs will be ‘different’ and that they will lead innovation and, ultimately, economic recovery. If it was all just a cost-cutting exercise, it wouldn’t be so bad but it’s just the same old lack of original and creative thinking. Now where have we heard those words before?

  4. March 3, 2014 7:55 pm

    I agree with the general theme…the educational benefits of merging like institutions has never been explained. If one is going to go down the path of mergers, surely mergers of IoTs with neighbouring universities would make more sense? Surely CIT makes a very natural (technological) sibling to UCC?
    On a point of info, I am unaware of any history between WIT and IT Carlow, good or bad. It’s also worth noting that the current WIT President is a former Predsident of Carlow (not just Registrar).

    • March 3, 2014 10:39 pm

      Thanks for that – updated Carlow IT Registrar to President.

  5. March 7, 2014 10:55 am

    Reblogged this on DCU union.

  6. Gillian Quinlan permalink
    April 29, 2015 9:18 pm

    Siobhan’s article cuts to the heart of what all this merger/cluster business is about. Educational/institutional rationale flew out the window in 2008-2010. There is no reason beyond efficiencies and rationalisation, i.e. reduction of public funding for HEIs. The forthcoming legislation will facilitate total and absolute rewriting of academic contracts, without any security or pension entitlement, tenure … job for life!. Watch this space,

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