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Sunday 21 July 2019

Another tech university project hit by wrangle over €26m issue

The difficulties at IT Tralee have created uncertainty about the project. Stock Image
The difficulties at IT Tralee have created uncertainty about the project. Stock Image
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

A second technological university project has been hit by a wrangle over who picks up the tab for outstanding deficits, debt and certain other costs when colleges merge to form a new entity.

The proposed Technological University of the South East (TUSE) involves a merger of the Institute of Technology Carlow (IT Carlow) and Waterford Institute of Technology (Waterford IT).

Waterford IT is running a deficit and also has a building loan, while IT Carlow is in a positive financial situation and is expected to continue to generate a surplus.

Also, Waterford IT lecturers have more favourable work practices, and bringing the systems into line would cost IT Carlow €2m-€3m a year.

It is understood that official projections of the combined deficit/debt and potential additional payroll costs would put the new TU into the red to the tune of €26m by 2024/25.

The Department of Education has told the colleges that it cannot plug the deficit.

IT Carlow says it is not prepared to use its reserves to cover another college's deficit/debt, and nor does it relish the higher costs associated with streamlining work practices.

The college told the Irish Independent that "its financial reserves will remain committed to current planned infrastructural developments" and "were not available to address any existing deficits/debts".

Waterford IT insists "there is no scenario whereby IT Carlow would carry the cost" of any deficit.

"The institute's deficit and debt will reduce in accordance with the well-defined financial plan of the institute" and "expects to be out of annual deficit by the time the TU is created", it stated.

There is a similar controversy involving the proposed Munster Technological University (MTU).

Cork IT is refusing to take on legacy financial deficits/debts from IT Tralee.

The difficulties at IT Tralee have created uncertainty about the project, with a report by international experts - being considered by Education Minister Joe McHugh - expressing concern about its financial viability.

The country's first technological university, TU Dublin, was created in January. But the issues in Munster and the south-east raise questions about when, or if, more will follow.

A department spokesperson confirmed "a substantial financial deficit" was projected to arise over the six-year period following the establishment of a TU in the south-east, but would not comment on the €26m figure.

The €26m is understood to include any outstanding deficit/debt as well as €15m in new costs, much of which is believed to be linked to potential higher payroll at Carlow.

The work practice issue is at the root of a rejection by lecturers in IT Carlow, members of the Teachers' Union of Ireland, of an agreement covering the industrial relations aspect of TUSE.

Irish Independent

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