Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, for coming to the House for this debate. The Minister of State will appreciate that for the south east not having a university is not an ideal. The facts speak for themselves. The south east has higher levels of unemployment and lower levels of educational attainment. There is no one reason for this but it is argued by academics, stakeholders and policy makers that not having a university has played its part in those figures, which are not good for the region. We need a university in the south east that puts us on a level playing field with all the other regions. I am supporter of the technological university of the south east. It is the best fit for the south east and for businesses, people and students.
In the south east we have an airport with no commercial flights. We have two institutes of technology but no university. We are always demanding of the Government that it give us the resources we need as of right. A university is a perfect example of that. What we need for the south east is not just the pegging together of Carlow and Waterford institutes of technology. We have to look at this as the opportunity to build a new world class university of international standing. This will only happen if resources and capacity are put in place. We need to increase the footprint of the campuses of Waterford and Carlow. In my view, the headquarters of the new university needs to be in the economic engine of the south east, its capital, namely Waterford. I know a change management strategy is being worked on by both institutes but I am concerned that the process for the south east is well behind other consortiums. Does the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, share that concern? How do we transition from where we are now with two institutes of technology to a university of international standing that can be on par with existing universities and can create the level playing field for people and businesses in the south east?
This will not happen if capital funding is not forthcoming.
I tabled a parliamentary question asking the Minister of State about the capital spend for all universities and institutes of technology. According to the response I received, TCD received €15 million, DCU received €32.84 million, UL received €1.7 million, IT Tallaght received €7.7 million, IT Dundalk received €18.4 million, GMIT Castlebar received €2 million and IT Limerick received €11.5 million. There was no mention of Waterford. I went back to the Secretary General of the Department to query that because I was aware that there were plans to build a new engineering, computing and general teaching building in Waterford. I was informed that was the case but the information was not in the original response. The question then arises as to when this will start and finish. We see the capital funding that has been made available for other institutes of technology. Why is this capital funding not in place in Waterford and why has the building not commenced. We are told that it will be a 12,800 sq. m building that will provide additional academic and teaching space but the reality is that much more needs to be done. If we want a university in the south east so that we can attract people to the region and seek to retain those who are currently obliged to leave in order to access third-level education because we do not have a university, we must have the capacity to do so. If we want to attract new graduates to the new university, we must have the capacity to do so. That means resources and capital funding. Can the Minister of State outline the funding that will be put in place in the coming years to ensure that we have a university of international standing which can deliver for the south east?
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. His doing so is very timely because I have just received the application for Munster Technological University, which came in at 5 p.m. I was hoping that the application from the Technological University for the South East Ireland, TUSEI, would come in before the one from Munster Technological University but that has not happened.
The Deputy will be aware that the Technological Universities Act was enacted in 2018 and that Technological University Dublin has now been set up. I am extremely ambitious for our students and I really believed in the technological university, TU, project. It provides significant opportunities for our students, who are the most important people in this debate, and the regional agenda. We have received the second application. I would ask TUSEI to work on its application. I understand it is ready and I am awaiting it.
The Deputy mentioned Exchequer funding and grants. In respect of the development of TUs, the Exchequer has provided some €19 million to consortia since 2013. The TUSEI consortium has received €1.72 million of this higher education landscape restructuring funding. It should be remembered that the institutes are co-funding the projects through staff and resources allocation. While projects will require funding in order to start up and develop, over time they will, as TUs, be in a far stronger position to attract additional funding streams through research funding, product and services development and the attraction of increased numbers of international students and, as the Deputy stated, those from the south east.
The Higher Education Authority will be announcing a new 2019 call for funding submissions in support of TU development and other landscape restructuring projects in quarter 1. This is further evidence of Government's ongoing commitment to the reform of the higher education sector through judicious consolidation as set out in the national strategy for higher education to 2030. Under Project Ireland 2040, the Government has pledged €2.2 billion in capital expenditure to the higher education sector within the next decade. Government will also spend €4 billion on a wide range of projects over the period 2019 to 2027 as part of Project Ireland 2040. In that context, higher education institutions are well placed to benefit in the areas of rural and urban development, climate action and disruptive technology. A call-out for money has been made in many of these areas. The major investments being made under Project Ireland 2040 will have a transformative impact on our education system, particularly students, and those consortia developing into TUs will be well placed to benefit from the significant investment opportunities presented.
Unfortunately, Minister of State did not answer the questions I put to her. That is very disappointing. In fact, I was able to put more information on the record of the House as to what capital spend is being made available for the south east than the Minister of State, which is quite extraordinary. The question concerned the capital funding that will be put in place to deliver a university of international standing in the south east. The Minister of State speaks of Project Ireland 2040, of which I am aware, and indicates that €2.2 billion in capital expenditure will be invested in the higher education sector in the next decade, of which I am also aware, and that as part of that, all universities and institutes of technology and potential TUs will benefit. However, I was asking specifically about the south east and the capital programmes that will be put in place. The Minister of State is asking people to take a leap of faith. People need to know how the Government is going to increase the footprint of the campuses in Waterford and Carlow to ensure that the TU has the capacity to retain more students and to attract more people to the south east. How was it that I was able to get information from the Secretary General of the Department when I followed it up with him after I received a poor response to my first question about what funding was being made available? According to an additional parliamentary question response, there is a PPP connected with the engineering, computing and general teaching building that is at an advanced design phase. The question is when the money for that will be made available and when construction will start because what we have in Waterford at the moment is a big crater in the ground. This project was a victim of the Celtic tiger. What capital funding will be invested and what additional capacity will be put in place in the south east?
It is very interesting that the Minister of State said the application from Munster Technological University has now arrived ahead of the one from the south east. What is the reason for that? How is the south east so far behind given that Dublin is so well advanced and the application for Munster has now been received? We are still behind in the south east with high levels of unemployment and lower levels of educational attainment. We need this for the south east. Why is it that, again, the process relating to the south east is well behind the rest?
I announced the €200 million for 11 of our 13 institutions in 2018. The Deputy asked why the application from the south east has been delayed. I am not sure. I have given it a lot of time. I have visited the campus and, since Christmas, met the two presidents of the institutes. I acknowledge the significant work being done by the presidents in Waterford and Carlow. I keep saying that this is for the students. It is not for other, possibly vested, interests. I encourage Waterford and Carlow and all the stakeholders there, including the students, to put pressure to make sure that application is received.
The TU budget is in place. The Higher Education Authority will announce a new call on money. I cannot give out money if I do not see something coming through and I have not seen a definitive plan for the south east. For example, Technological University Dublin received €9.28 million in 2018 while TUSEI received €1.72 million.
We will be-----
The Taoiseach and I are very ambitious for the area. We want the technological university in the south east to make its application and the expert group to look at that application. I heard that 20,000 students leave the south-east region every year. I would like to see students educated in their own area, thereby creating a regional development dynamic within the area.
I ask Deputy Cullinane to use his office in any way he can to help promote the technological university in the south east. He could talk to whatever stakeholders he deals with and encourage them to come on board and make sure this happens.