NEW legislation is set to pave the way for the merger of institutes of technology, enabling them to apply for university status.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has published the heads of a bill that will allow for the merger of institutes and the future establishment of technological universities.
He said: "This is an exciting time for our higher education institutes. For the first time since University of Limerick and DCU attained university status in 1989, the prospect of new universities is very real."
Under the plans, technological universities will be new higher education institutions, with a mission to provide high-quality enterprise focused on education and research.
The minister said that through mergers the institutes of technology "can achieve the critical mass to allow them to reach the scale and level of performance required to compete on the world stage with other similar institutions".
Three groups of institutes of technology have expressed interest in merging and applying to become a technological university. They are:
* Cork Institute of Technology and the Institute of Technology, Tralee;
* Waterford Institute of Technology and Carlow Institute of Technology.
Meanwhile, a fourth group, the Connacht-Ulster Alliance (Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology; Sligo IT and Letterkenny IT) has indicated a deepening of their existing alliance with a view to merger in the medium term.
Mr Quinn said: "Each of the three groups will have to meet the exacting standards as set out to become technological universities and this will be judged independently."