Dáil debates

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Technological Universities

5:30 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy raising the matter and for his tireless work, leadership and advocacy on this matter. I was pleased to join him and colleagues from across the south east on Tuesday when we announced very clearly that the technological university for the south east will open its doors by 1 May. After decades of debate, discussion and at times uncertainty and disagreement, we now have a very clear pathway forward. The train is leaving the station. The south east will have a technological university next year. I am delighted and join the Deputy in thanking the presidents of the institutions, the governing authorities, particularly the chairs, Mr. Tom Boland and all the Oireachtas Members. We can all be partisan in this House from time to time - that is normal in a democracy - but on this issue I must say the non-partisan nature in which everyone approached the issue on all sides was very encouraging and beneficial.

The application seeking TU designation was submitted to me jointly on 30 April on behalf of the Institute of Technology Carlow and Waterford Institute of Technology, or the TUSEI consortium, under the Technological Universities Act 2018. I subsequently appointed an independent international advisory panel to assist in assessing this application and sought the views of the board of the Higher Education Authority, HEA, on that report and any other matters of relevance. On foot of my deliberations and extensive engagement with the presidents and governing authority chairs, I propose to approve the application.

I am taken with the question of the difference between an IoT and a TU. While I will not be able to do it full justice in the two minutes available to me, some immediate things that come to mind. First, is scale and critical mass. There is the greater focus on research and a regional focus. It is something that looks at how we can harness the full potential of the south east from an investment and jobs point of view. It is about access to the full spectrum of qualifications and a wider range of academic programmes. Of course, the people of Waterford, for the first time ever, can access a university degree within Waterford. Those are just some of the things that come to mind.

In line with the legislative processes, those being sections 34 and 35 of the 2018 Act, I wrote to the chairs of the applicant institutes on this matter on 2 November outlining my intention to designate. Under the Act the institutes have 30 days to respond to my proposed decision.

The timeline of 1 May will allow for a number of things to be addressed, including some to which the Deputy referred. It will allow the Oireachtas to approve the order, the name to be decided, the appointment of the first governing body, and the identification and designation of a first president through an open competitive process.

I intend to advertise this month through a public process for people to come forward to serve as the chair of the board of the governing authority. I expect an international recruitment campaign for the first president to kick off probably in January, but certainly very early in the new year. Those are two very important steps.

After almost a decade of debate and false dawns, the establishment of the new technological university is now rapidly becoming a reality. I take the Deputy's point on the importance of expanding the footprint in Waterford and investing in the infrastructure, and we have had many conversations about this. We have a capital budget for higher education that is larger than ever before. We have a technological university transformation fund of €90 million. There is €40 million more for technological universities under the national recovery and resilience plan, published by the Government. In the coming days, my Department, the HEA and WIT will meet to discuss a prospective business case for the expansion of the footprint and the acquisition of an additional site. The Government and I - everyone from the Taoiseach down - are determined to expand the physical footprint of Waterford Institute of Technology and what will ultimately be the technological university in the months ahead.


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