Thursday, 14 January 2021
Covid-19 (Higher Education): Statements
I thank Deputy Harkin for her questions. My information regarding the Connacht-Ulster alliance and the application for technological university status is the same as the Deputy's. We are expecting that application imminently. My Department, I, as Minister, and the Government are very supportive of it. The north west needs this university which offers really exciting opportunities in terms of regional development, with students being able to access the full range of university education at all levels within their own region. The discussions we have just been having about people from rural communities having to travel long distances are relevant here. The ability to stay and learn in one's own region makes it more likely that one can continue to live in one's own region, which has very many significant benefits. I am very excited about the Connacht-Ulster alliance and am also excited by the possibility of collaboration between the north west in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in terms of Government commitments regarding the Magee campus in Derry. I look forward to continuing to work with Deputy Harkin on the Connacht-Ulster technological university.
I thank the Deputy for raising the issue of St. Angela's College again and providing me with the time to respond which I did not have earlier, unfortunately. I have met representatives of St. Angela's and was blown away by them. It is a brilliant college and I want to pay tribute to Ms Amanda McCloat, the president, the chairman of the governing authority, Mr. Justice Fennelly, and the Ursuline Sisters. St. Angela's is a really proactive and innovative college which clearly puts the welfare of its students at the heart of all it does. I cannot speak highly enough of the college, from the engagements that I have had with its representatives.
On the issue of which entity it merges with or where it sits, I would say two things. First, this has dragged on for way too long and I know that view is shared by St. Angela's. The fact that six or seven years on we are still talking about this is pathetic, to be quite honest. It is not good enough. A decision needs to be made, clarity provided and that needs to happen quickly. Second, the landscape has now changed, as the Deputy has pointed out. I am not coming down on one side or the other here because that would not be helpful to the process but the idea that there is only one potential partner is no longer the case for many reasons, including the development of the technological university agenda. When I became Minister the view was that there was one option and one option only but that view has now changed. My officials have written to St. Angela's College and invited it to put forward proposals or a business case for how it wishes to align, merge or engage with other institutions beyond NUIG. That process is live at the moment, with an opportunity for the HEA and my Department to consider any potential merger and a variety of different partners to put themselves forward. This has been going on for too long and there is now more than one viable partner. I would like to see those two issues addressed quickly.