WE would like to be publishing a front page story and an editorial this week that would be celebratory of a momentous occasion for Waterford. Many will think that we should be, in particular the majority of our Oireachtas representatives. But that would be remiss of us.
The push to attain educational equality for Waterford and the South East region has been an arduous and long one. The current editor of the Waterford News & Star recalls, over 20 years ago when she herself was a university student in Dublin, reading a full page advertisement, taken out in the national newspapers by concerned stakeholders calling for a university in Waterford. At that stage University of Limerick was well established. The editor also recalls making the journey west to an open day and taking in the Limerick college’s impressive campus. The same was the experience of countless South East students, who had to travel further afield for university education.
‘If educational equality with the country’s other regions is what we need, will the Technological University of the South East provide that in any real sense?’
This is not to undermine the excellent quality of education offered by Waterford Institute of Technology. The Waterford college has consistently outperformed its peer colleges across Ireland and has always stood as a totem of what Institutes of Technology can achieve. But it couldn’t provide the choice of courses available – and substantially funded – in Ireland’s universities, and, thereby, a significant portion of our student populace was lost to the South East, with many never returning.
The effect of this absence is difficult to quantify, and, crucially, difficult to translate into a narrative that can be easily explained or sold come election time. After decades and decades of campaigns and reports, it is easy to see why Waterford’s politicians – in a solitary position, up against the might of influence of the country’s universities, and a South East parish pump political environment – so readily accept the Technological University as the only solution likely to be achieved by Waterford.
But the question remains as to whether the role Waterford will play will be hobbled from the start.
There has been little in the way of concrete assurance as to where Waterford will feature in this cross-county technological university. The much publicised concern over the siting of the university’s headquarters is one matter. In terms of Waterford’s standing as the gateway city to the South East, the loss of the HQ would brutally undermine of our city’s status and credibility.
But it goes deeper than that. If educational equality with the country’s other regions is what we need, will the Technological University of the South East provide that in any real sense?
History would suggest not. Waterford a number of generations ago was elevated from regional technical college status to Institute of Technology. Its peer colleges followed hot on its heels. Now, should this application get the green light, Waterford will become a key component of the Technological University of the South East. It won’t be alone, with Tralee IT, Cork IT, Athlone IT, Limerick IT, Galway-Mayo IT, IT Sligo, Letterkenny IT, and Waterford’s partner, Carlow IT, all looking forward to ‘technological university’ status.
The Higher Education Authority states that the newly mandated umbrella group of technological universities will “address the social and economic needs of their region”. Engaging in industry-focused research, the technological universities “will focus on science and technology programmes that are vocationally and professionally oriented”.
It really smacks of more of the same – the only two colleges left out of this grand nationwide scheme are Dundalk IT and Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. The sceptical among us fear that it won’t amount to much more for Waterford than a hill of beans.
This won’t encumber our politicians that much, but it will our young people, and they are, we must always remember, our region’s economic future.
Editorial, first published in May 4th edition of the Waterford News & Star