Let IT and TU borrow to help tackle student housing crisis, says new TU director

The distinct “inequalities” that limit the borrowing capacity of institutes of technology (IOT) and universities of technology (TU) and prevent them from building their own student accommodation like “traditional” universities need to be addressed.

That’s according to Professor Vincent Cunnane, the new president of Ireland’s third technological university, the Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest (TUS).

TUS is the result of the merger of Limerick IT and Athlone IT, and has campuses in Clonmel, Thurles and Ennis, as well as in Limerick and Athlone. Giving IOTs and TUs this borrowing capacity would go some way to alleviating pressures in the rental market, Professor Cunnane said.

“Imagine where we would be if these traditional universities hadn’t had the capacity to build student housing,” he said.

But imagine where we would be in four or five years if the tech sector was licensed and had the option to build its own student accommodation?

Professor Cunnane was speaking to Irish Examiner ahead of the official launch of Shannon University of Technology: Midlands Midwest this afternoon. This decision will see a merger between the Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) and the Athlone Institute of Technology.

Professor Cunnane is the outgoing president of LIT, where he was appointed in 2016.

“On a personal level, it is a huge honor to have been chosen to be the founding president of the university of technology here,” he said.

“I am really excited about the prospect. It will be a huge challenge, there is no doubt. But I am ready for this challenge and look forward to the next few years as we create this new institution, this new technological university.

“It’s something that represents quality, its transformative nature, and it will have a huge impact.”

“It’s a big start, a big change, you know, the merger of two very successful organizations,” he added.

He admitted that merging two very successful IOTs to become Ireland’s third technological university “is in itself a big job”.

“But we have [also] has changed a lot over the lifetime of our consortium, meeting onerous legislative requirements in order to reach an international panel and get through that and get a lot of praise for the way we did it in the short time that we did it. ”

The new TU will focus on applied research, as well as new degree programs.

“There’s a tremendous amount going to happen that will evolve over the next couple of years as well, but the goal is to become a well-established and well-known tech university.

“We hope to become Ireland’s premier technological university, that’s a clear ambition.”

There is a major funding problem surrounding the sustainability of higher education, according to Professor Cunnane.

President of the Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest, Professor Vincent Cunnane: “Our digital expansion is manifested in a housing crisis. Photo: Brian Arthur

“Within this, however, there are complexities and uncertainties that need to be addressed. I am not getting extra money because I am becoming a tech university [today]unlike when I was president of LIT, ”he explained.

“In addition to finding a sustainable model based on the Cassells report, which I believe is now on the desk of the Minister of Higher Education that he is currently considering, we need to remove these inequalities within the funding system of education. ‘Higher Education.

“One that is obvious right now is the lack of borrowing capacity for the IOTs, and in fact the new TUs and that’s not changing. [today] That is.

“We must have a borrowing capacity, which at least makes it possible to take charge of activity with a commercial vocation such as student accommodation built for this purpose. ”

The new TU would be building if it had the capacity to borrow, he explained.

“We have the space, we have the desire, we have the numbers, and that would help alleviate the student housing crisis, obviously, but also take students out of the community at large and allow these homes to be open to people. young families. and professionals.

“So I’m not just looking for a Cassells report result, I’m also looking for the erosion of the distinct inequalities between traditional and technological institutions. ”

The availability of student accommodation is a national issue, but it has been infuriated this year, with students demonstrating at Dáil last week to highlight the problem of the huge waiting lists for campus accommodation nationwide and the surge. rents for students living in private accommodation. Some have chosen to commute, while others have been forced to sleep on sofas because they cannot find accommodation.

“There has been an increase in the number of people going through the CAD system and Ireland has become a very attractive place for European students after Brexit.

“Our expansion in numbers is manifested in a housing crisis.”

Allowing TUs and IOTs to build their own student housing, like traditional universities have done, is a solution, but not immediate, he added.

TUS will have a student body of over 14,000 and a staff of approximately 1,200 across six campuses in Athlone, Limerick (Moylish and Limerick School of Art and Design), Clonmel, Ennis and Thurles.

Niall Collins, Minister of State for Skills and Continuing Education, will be among the keynote speakers at the ceremony.

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