12. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Education and Skills the financial supports available from his Department and or the Higher Education Authority to encourage the formation and development of technological university consortia; the measures by which such supports will be considered successful; the anticipated impacts of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 14364/18 asked on 29 Mar 2018)
Deputy Pat Deering: What financial supports will be available from the Department to encourage the formation and development of technological university consortia? The Technological Universities Bill 2015 was signed into law by the President in the past number of weeks, which is good news. I compliment the Minister of State and the Minister on the work they have done to bring it to this stage. What financial incentives will be available to move it to the next stage?
Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor): I thank the Deputy for the interest he has shown in the technological university, TU, for the south east. He has been a great supporter for that designation. I also thank all the stakeholders for the work they have done so far and the work that is being done in the application process now for TU designation.
The development of TUs is a key priority of the Government. Once operational, they will be drivers of regional jobs growth. Currently, four consortia of institutes of technology are engaged in the development process seeking to become designated as TUs.
The reforms we are introducing require investment and that is why funding is provided to support consortia engaged in implementing reform of the higher education landscape. Between 2013 and 2017, some €10 million in Exchequer funding was provided to the four consortia seeking to develop TUs.
A further €10 million was provided in budget 2018 for landscape restructuring, including TU consortia development. The HEA recently issued a call for further funding submissions to TU development consortia. The final allocation of the 2018 funding call will be dependent on the type and quality of bids received from higher education institutions and subject to demonstrated progress in agreed project plans.
Allocations of €8 million are also being provided for in the Department’s indicative Estimates for 2019 and 2020 for TU development and other landscape higher education restructuring projects.
To answer the second part of the Deputy’s question, the submissions are required to set out progress to date, expected costs and milestones for each phase of the proposed project, along with an overall cost and expected completion date, to demonstrate a long-term strategic approach to reform.
Deputy Pat Deering: I thank the Minister of State for her reply. The signing of the Bill into law in the past number of weeks is an important first step. The next stages are equally as important. It is essential that the process moves on at pace in the south east, to which she alluded, now that the initial legislative roadblock has been removed. She outlined funding streams. Does she have a specific timescale in mind for the drawdown of the funding? Is funding available for specific projects? She mentioned that there are four consortia. Will they have to go through a competitive process or will there be a specific budget for each consortium?
Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor: We have a pot of money for 2018 and I outlined the indicative budget for 2019. However, the drawdown will depend on the progress the consortia make. Some are ahead of others. I will invite all the consortia to meet departmental and HEA officials to help them make successful applications. The Minister and I, and the Department, want the TU applications to be successful. As they progress, the consortia will be able to draw down the pot of money.
Deputy Pat Deering: I thank the Minister of State for her clarification of that matter. I accept her point that some consortia are ahead of others for one reason or another. However, if a consortium gets left behind, will funding still be available to it even if the others have drawn down money?
Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor: No, we are committed as a Government to the four consortia coming together to form four TUs. There will be money but there will not be as much money if a consortium falls behind. Money will be available in 2019 and 2020. These are long-term projects and we want them to succeed. They will change the landscape for students and for regional development.