Sunday, June 07, 2020

Dr Richard Hayes, Vice President for Strategy at Waterford Institute of Technology.
Photo: Patrick Browne

Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) has retained its focus on delivering a regional Technological University, irrespective of other developments in the third level sector.

Speaking to the Waterford News & Star, WIT’s Vice President for Strategy Dr Richard Hayes said that “work between WIT and IT Carlow is ongoing. We continue to be focused on it and the focus is on delivering a top quality university for the South East and I think that can get missed sometimes in the conversation around getting in an application or getting things over the line and the idea of being left behind by Cork. We have to focus on delivering a top quality university for the South East and that requires time, effort along bringing the staff along with us, which we have done at WIT up to this juncture and there’s nothing to suggest that this will regress any time soon.”

From an IT Carlow perspective, its President Dr Patricia Mulcahy told staff last week: “I can assure you that the management of both Carlow and Waterford (ITs) are further encouraged to overcome the challenges that are currently facing our South East consortium to ensure the delivery of a TU for our region…

“I am confident that with the support of the incoming Government, the Department of Education and Skills and the HEA, as well as all stakeholders within the institutes and regions, that we will be in a position to deliver a TU.”

Dr Hayes, who said that WIT will offer whatever assistance IT Carlow may opt to seek from its would-be TU partner if requested, stressed: “These things take a lot of time and a lot of working out and we’re inching forward towards resolution, we’d hope, and yes, it is frustrating that it’s taken so long but that’s how it is. And I have to re-iterate that we have to have the staff with us because they are the foundation of the new organisation.”

With the previous breakdown in communication between WIT and IT Carlow “in no way” an element in the ongoing negotiations between the two Institutes, Dr Hayes added: “The TU legislation only appeared on the horizon a couple of years ago and a lot of institutions were holding back and waited to see what the legislation was going to look like so that was certainly one reference point that people were taking in this very long journey. The other part of it too was that the Department (of Education) convened a group called TURN – the Technological University Research Network – which has since published a report and that was work which was ongoing last year, and both ourselves and Carlow contributed to that report’s development. There has been no stall in this (TU) application process, there’s been a lot going on over the last year both at national and local level.”

Dr Hayes admitted that the Covid-19 pandemic has stymied not only WIT’s work on the TU application but on practically every other front as well. “All the resources of the Institute have had to be deployed over the past two to three months to deal with this crisis, to look after our current students and to make sure that we can emerge from under the current academic year in a way that guaranteed the quality of what we were delivering in terms of exams and so on and the staff have done fantastic work to close out an academic year in such difficult circumstances and they deserve huge credit for the work they’ve put in. The resources throughout higher education have been similarly focused across the country and we’re not out of it yet as we have to plan for next year too so certainly that has not assisted in moving things on in terms of the application…but we have been working around this and meetings have continued to place both internally and with our colleagues in Carlow.”

As for whether a TU application would have been submitted by the end of this academic year in the absence of a pandemic, Dr Hayes replied: “How can you tell? These are very, very complex matters. Delivering a university of scale and high performance that’s going to be better than what we currently have is not a simple task. It’s extremely complex from the Industrial Relations (IR) point of view and from many other points of view including funding and finances. This isn’t like applying for a driving licence, this is an incredibly complex thing. Secondly, we’re not going to contemplate putting in an application that doesn’t have the support and endorsement of our staff – we simply couldn’t do that. However the issue is to be resolved – and everybody is frustrated that we haven’t able to move forward and that we’re not where Munster (TU) is but at the same time and this is the third point worth making on this: we cannot contemplate putting in an application that’s going to fail because the future credibility of the organisation is founded on having an application that’s successful, that has the ringing endorsement of an international panel and then proceeds from there.”

Dr Hayes commented: “There can be, for me, an over emphasis on getting this done and getting an application in: the focus has to be on creating a university of substance and in that light, putting in an application that will be endorsed and validated by an international peer review panel of experts and that will be the foundation of an enhanced higher education system in the South East. That has to be the focus. And if that takes time to get to, then it takes time to get to.”

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