The provision of enhanced capital funding is a red line issue when it comes to delivering the Technological University of the South East according to Waterford TD David Cullinane (SF).
Speaking in the wake of a meeting between the managements of both Waterford and Carlow ITs and South East Oireachtas members, Deputy Cullinane told the Waterford News & Star: “I think there’s a lot going for this process, I’m very optimistic that the TU designation will happen and I think the will is certainly there. I just hope that whatever blocks that have been there for so long can be overcome. But the biggest fear, I suppose, is that if we do actually get this designation but that the capital funding required to make it a university of real international standing doesn’t follow – by that I mean the sort of money that would lead to something genuinely different to what was previously in place – then all we’d have to effectively show at the end of this process would be a name change. So I think we’re going to have to really, really battle here to get as much capacity and resources in.”
Deputy Cullinane added: “The ambition from both institutes, in my view, will have to be to make this new entity the most dynamic, driving and best Technological University in the country – it has to set that standard and that level of ambition for itself. And when it does set that standard for itself, then the Government has got to come in behind it with the capital funding to make that a reality…and I’m optimistic that all the relevant stakeholders can deliver this. It’s down to the two (IT) Presidents and I have faith in both of them that they will be able to reach the 2022 (designation) deadline that they have set themselves.”
When asked about the fears being expressed on social media by a constituency of Waterfordians who believe that TU status will denude WIT’s academic reputation, Deputy Cullinane believes much of that sentiment “is borne out of real frustration”.
He continued: “This isn’t just related to Waterford either, in my view. It’s about how the South East has been neglected and if you look at all the economic indicators, it’s all been documented, we know we don’t always get our fair share and we know that we’re always waiting for an announcement – be it the airport, the North Quays, health infrastructure – we keep being told it’s coming down the line, but people don’t actually see delivery. And that’s very, very frustrating. For me, that’s the first thing that underpins that thinking.”
David Cullinane contended: “But the reality is that if you don’t have critical mass, you can’t get big infrastructure so you have to think regionally and I think the National Planning Framework that categorises Waterford as a regional city is the way forward.”
Acknowledging that the Gateway status granted to Waterford via the National Spatial Strategy (which officially expires this year), Deputy Cullinane said the NPF features a distinct difference in relation to the city.
“The gateway status was contested at the time by others in the region. I feel that sentiment has tempered somewhat and I think that there’s a growing acceptance now, across the region, that Waterford needs to thrive if the region is to thrive. And I am of the view that a multi-campus university across the region is the best fit and that Waterford will do exceptionally well out of that because we will be the regional city with a university anchored in the regional city…so for Waterford and Carlow to pool their resources, with constituent campuses in Wexford and Kilkenny where the TSSG (WIT) already has some capacity, is in my perspective, a good thing. And that understandable frustration you made reference to earlier is all the more reason why we need to deliver and then prove that this can be a university of real standing.”
Deputy Cullinane concluded: “If at the end of all this, people would be badly let down if this amounts to nothing more than a name change without the capital funding a project like this requires. And if that doesn’t happen, then it will add to that cynicism and exasperation that people feel.”