Third level education in County Tipperary was given a major boost when the uncertainty surrounding the future of Tipperary Institute was removed.
The Institute, which faced closure in the McCarthy Bord Snip Report, has been given a lifeline with a merger with Limerick Institute of Technology.
The formal merger between TI and Limerick Institute of Technology is now in place signalling a major step forward for third level education in the county. It is seen as a very positive move which protects and enhances third-level education in County Tipperary.
Subject to government decisions, the amalgamation will be fully implemented by September 2011.
The third level campus in the two Tipperary towns will now be known as LIT (Clonmel) and LIT (Thurles).
Michael O'Connell, Acting CEO of Tipperary Institute (a senior manager on secondment from LIT) stated: "There are approximately 4,600 students from Tipperary in third level at any one time. But there is plenty of room to grow educational opportunity.
"Tipperary is still well behind the best county participation levels in higher education (56% in Tipperary versus 70% in Sligo and 66% in Galway and Mayo). We look forward to working with schools, VECs, parents and teachers to make this exciting development a reality in the lives of many more Tipperary students."
The Governing Body of Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) and the Board of Directors of Tipperary Institute (TI) have agreed in a scoping document the basis for TI to become part of LIT.
This is a move that will create a significantly enlarged Institute of Technology serving Limerick, Clare and North and South Tipperary.
The scoping document also sets out how governance structures, financial arrangements, human and physical resources and academic offerings will be transformed over the coming 5-year period.
The two organisations had only been working on these proposals since early December, in a co-operative process at the behest of the Department of Education and Science, and they have swiftly reached agreement.
LIT in its new form will have a course portfolio for all the campuses of 68 programmes listed on the CAO and dozens of part-time programmes, giving scope for a major increase in student numbers within current resources from around 7,000 currently to 8,000 by 2015.
Included here are plans to double TI's current 500 full time students to 1,000, to widen lifelong learning and research and development opportunities. The aim is to strengthen enhanced higher education hubs in Thurles and Clonmel in co operation with LIT's two Limerick campuses. These hubs are to be known as LIT (Thurles), LIT (Clonmel) or in combination LIT (Tipperary).
Work can now begin on the mapping out of the detailed academic offerings to be developed on a complementary and mutual support basis between the Limerick and Tipperary campuses. This will also involve the transformation of TI’s structures so as to better match the huge pool of talent, skills, and creativity available in the Institute to more closely match the needs of Tipperary students, their parents, schools and other stakeholders.
There are also combined strengths in research, development and enterprise support. For instance, LIT has in recent years secured collaborative research projects involving 120 companies totalling j11.7m, mainly in applied biotechnology and ICT. TI has been successful in obtaining €10m of EU funding to lead projects in sustainability and rural development. There are plans to roll out the highly successful Enterprise Acceleration Centre at LIT to the Tipperary based campuses, offering a supportive environment for business start ups.