Saturday, August 08, 2020

Opinion: David Cullinane TD 

Ever since I was a child, I have listened to politicians talk about a University for Waterford and for the region.

For decades, the demand for educational equality for the South East has fallen on deaf ears. Moves championed as one step forward in reality were two steps back.

Like so many key issues it becomes a battle with the system. Government departments frustrate and not help in delivering key projects. Constructive criticism and just demands are dismissed unfairly as whinging and moaning.

A case in point is the long campaign for emergency cardiac services and provision of a second Cath Lab at University Hospital Waterford (UHW). The Department of Health and the HSE dithered, frustrated and delayed until finally relenting to local pressure. And yet we are still waiting for delivery.

The people of Waterford care about their City and County. They get angry when they see higher levels of unemployment, lower levels of educational attainment and continuous foot dragging when it comes to delivering key projects for the county.

These concerns are not driven by cynicism. They are driven by good people who demand equality and fair play. Waterford is well capable of delivering socially and economically if we are given the tools and resources to do so.

The need for a University for the region is obvious. We are the only region without a University. This educational inequality is in part responsible for lower levels of economic activity.

The core foundations of a University of international standing are:

• Autonomy
• Branding
• Finance

To date I have not seen a vision that delivers on these core foundations. Bickering over a legacy debt is a smokescreen. The real test is what additional financial capital will be made available to increase the footprint of both campuses.

A University worth its salt must have autonomy, must have the resources to match the branding and must be able to compete with other Universities on a level playing field. To date I have not seen any additional investment of scale.

I want to see a world class University for the region. Let us remind ourselves who a University should be for – our young people who leave the region for a University qualification, our businesses who will thrive from additional qualifying graduates and research and development capacity and the people of the region who demand educational and economic equality.

To deliver this world class university we need vision, leadership and funding. We need an educational solution to an educational problem.

Political solutions will make matters worse. Talk of the new Headquarters being placed in Kilkenny smacks of a political solution as opposed to matching a plan with real vision.

A recent appointment to drive the process forward has been broadly welcomed. We all want to see delivery. However, it cannot simply be a name change.

Changing the name plate on the wall with a ribbon cut by whoever is the Minister of the day will not deliver the new funding, the additional research and development opportunities and the added social and economic value a University must bring.

Fine words butter no parsnips. Cutting a ribbon is not a vision.

The process now more than ever has to be underpinned by trust and credibility. Those driving the project must have an open mind and working to an educational and not a political solution.

Much work needs to be done. It remains to be seen whether we get a new regional university of international standing or a name change that leaves us worse off than we currently are.

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