WHILE admitting to feeling “a little let down” in the wake of last week’s Munster Technological University (MTU) announcement, WIT President Willie Donnelly has told staff: “We have earned the title of University”.
In an all-staff email issued on Friday last, Professor Donnelly said while he was happy for Cork IT (CIT) and IT Tralee (ITT), he had “always believed that WIT as a South East university (with our partners) would be the second (TU) to be established in Ireland. The fact that did not happen as yet is not because of a lack of commitment from WIT”.
Prof Donnelly stated: “The establishment of two universities in Cork and no resolution to the university issue in the South East will cast a long shadow over Waterford city and the Institute. At the moment CIT is not a competitor of WIT when it comes to students deciding where they wish to study. I would say that the main reason is reputation. Both CIT and WIT are considered by the second level teacher community as of equal standing as university-like institutes. This will change in the future if we remain an Institute of Technology and MTU is established.”
A re-ignited debate
The TUSE debate reignited following last Tuesday’s announcement that the MTU will come into effect on January 1 next after a draft ministerial order was approved by both the Dáil and Seanad.
In his email, Prof Donnelly stated: “As is the culture here, we have had open and frank discussions about the TU and whether it would meet the Institute’s and the city’s aspirations for a university of substance. In the end we as community got fully behind the process. It is nearly one year since the TUI here voted overwhelming in support of the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). We have also had fantastic support from professional, managerial and support staff unions. The message from all of the WIT community is clear: we are ready to progress the project to its conclusion which will result in the establishment of the TUSEI. We need to address the outstanding issues and progress move forward. We do not want to see a repeat of the experience of the regional hospital which resulted in the power shifting outside the region.”
He continued: “To date, WIT has played a central role in the growth of biopharma, advanced manufacturing and ICT industries in the city. We compete directly with Cork and Limerick to attract these industries. Without growth in these and other industries and retention of students in the region we will see our oldest city decrease in importance and the city title will become less relevant. We as an institute have no intention of letting this happen.”
The need to “hold firm”
Professor Donnelly said WIT needs to hold firm on its commitment “to deliver a university of scale and international standing through the TU. We also need the political and educational establishment to focus their attention on the South East and ensure that the structures are put in place for the creation of the TUSEI as soon as possible. All parties have to remove all barriers that are preventing progress. We are an institute that, through our academic endeavours nationally and internationally for over 50 years, and through innovation and engagement, has exhausted the RTC/IOT designation and are ready to move to the next level which is the foundation of a new university for the city and region. We have earned the title of University.”
Reaction to the MTU news from a Waterford perspective is unlikely to have escaped the attention of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Speaking at the WIT Arena on March 9, 2018, Mr Varadkar said: “I think it’s really sad, in fact it’s actually a tragedy that in my constituency in West Dublin, even though I’m delighted it’s going ahead in my constituency (as part of TU Dublin), that there may be a university campus there, perhaps this year, and yet we don’t have it here (in Waterford). We didn’t even have an RTC (in his Dublin West constituency) in the 1990s and now we’re going to have a university campus and, really, in my view, the South East should have been first (to achieve TU status). But for that to happen, Waterford IT and Carlow IT really need to get together and resolve any issues that are outstanding because the next (TU) has to be in the South East and it would be a real shame if the next one is Cork or Kerry, or the one after that is the Midlands and the West, because no region will benefit more from having a Technological University than this one.”
When addressing the TUSE issue during a visit to Lismore on September 6 last, the Taoiseach expressed his disappointment with the protracted progress of the Waterford IT/IT Carlow submission.
“I’m very frustrated about it, quite frankly. The big thing that the Government had to do was to pass the legislation to allow Technological Universities to be established and that’s been done. The first (TU) in Dublin is already up and running but I didn’t want the first one to be in Dublin because we already have three universities in Dublin. I wanted the first one to be here in the South East where there isn’t a university so I’m frustrated about it. Everything is not under our control but we are engaging with the (teacher) unions with a view to answering some of their concerns so that we can go ahead and have ‘TU South East’ established in 2020.”
Mr Varadkar said the creation of the TUSE “based in Waterford” would “do for the region what UL did for the Mid-West region and Limerick. It means the end to the brain drain. It means more students being able to stay in the region if they want to. It means students being attracted in from other parts of the country and other parts of the world. It means that businesses are spun off from the university and we’ve seen that all over the country and it means that it’s much easier to attract FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) and investment into the region if (would be investors) know there’s a university there for research funding and a supply of graduates. So that’s something I’m determined to get done and over the line in 2020.”
WIT “remains focused” on TUSE delivery
Speaking to the Waterford News & Star on Friday last, Dr Richard Hayes, WIT’s Vice President for Strategy stated: “Work on the (TUSE) application is ongoing and the focus is on delivering a top quality university for the South East and that’s a point which sometimes gets missed in the conversation around the application process and getting things over the line. We have to focus on delivering a top quality university for this region and that requires time, effort and, most importantly of all that we bring the staff along with us in that process.”
Dr Hayes added: “Just under a year ago, we presented a Memorandum of Understanding to the academic union, the TUI, in both Waterford and Carlow, establishing a roadmap for how staff would feature in the new organisation and how they would be involved in the process as it rolls out over the next couple of years. The TUI membership voted on that and we got a ringing endorsement of that in Waterford, which was terrific – and the branch officers and the president in Waterford need to be commended and congratulated in getting that done. It didn’t attract the same support in Carlow and a lot of work has gone on in the last while to try and resolve that, to try and get that over the line because we’re not prepared to go forward if the staff aren’t with us.”
While not in a position to assess where IT Carlow’s TUI members are currently at in relation to the process, Dr Hayes said: “We got a 93 per cent vote on this last year (among WIT’s TUI branch) so we’ve got on our ducks in a row, so to speak when it comes to this. We’re ready to go and all we can is offer our support and help where we can…work is going on, there are regular meetings with of the two partners with the various staff unions. These things take a lot of time, a lot of working out so discussions have been going on and we’re inching towards resolution – we hope. It’s frustrating that it’s taking so long but that’s how it is. But I have to re-iterate this: we have to have the staff with us because they’re the foundation of the new organisation.”
The Waterford News & Star contacted IT Carlow on Wednesday last, seeking a comment from its President, Dr Patricia Mulcahy, in relation to the TUSE application, but no reply has proven forthcoming as of yet.