Wednesday, 3 November 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Yesterday marked a very significant milestone in a journey which has had more twists than a murder mystery novel. Thankfully, that chapter has come to a conclusion and a new chapter has begun with yesterday's announcement that a technical university for the south east will be established by 1 May and that all final year students currently attending Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, and IT Carlow will graduate with a university degree. This is fantastic news for Waterford and the entire south-east region. It is good for students, families, jobs and inward investment.
The establishment of a university in the south east has been described as a necessity by stakeholders for a protracted period. I am very encouraged by the interactions I have had with stakeholders and IDA Ireland and their positivity about the establishment of a technological university in the south east.
I thank the staff, management and students at WIT and IT Carlow for their diligent work and determination, sometimes in the face of opposition. Their commitment to the establishment of a technological university, TU, has to be complimented. I am sure everyone will join me in congratulating them on their work and resolve.
I have some points and questions on which I hope the Minister can bring clarity. The first is on the designation and commencement dates for the new technological university. At our meeting yesterday, the Minister indicated he expected designation in January and commencement by 1 May. I hope he will clarify that, in the event that everything is in place to enable a designation and commencement before those timelines, nothing would preclude that from occurring. It is imperative that we commence with the international competition to appoint a president of the new technological university. Existing contracts are coming to a conclusion and the new president, whoever that may be, will likely have to work a notice period in his or her existing role.
There is also the matter of the process and timelines for the appointment of a chairperson and two external members. I have told the Minister several times that I believe these are of critical importance if we are to gel the two institutions and ensure the new governing body can realise the vision we have for higher education in the region.
Last but not least, one of the most important issues outside of the headquarters location, which we discussed in a previous Commencement debate, is the expanded campus development in Waterford. Extensive work has been undertaken on the proposal to acquire additional land to enable the new technological university to expand in Waterford, particularly in the last six months but even before that in the development of master plans for the envisaged site. What are the next steps after the meeting on Friday with WIT, the HEA and the Department on the business plan? Will the Minister reaffirm the Government's commitment to this proposal?
On capital funding, WIT and IT Carlow made submissions to the HEA as part of the national development plan review. Support is needed, not only from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science but also the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, both in relation to borrowing capacity and accessing cheap financing from the European Investment Bank and others for projects such as student accommodation, incubation spaces and research and development centres. I would appreciate assurances from the Minister on this.
I thank the Minister for the resolve he has shown in ensuring we will have a technological university in the south east for the first time.