Seanad debates

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Technological Universities

10:30 am

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

I thank Senator Cummins for his work, leadership and dedication in delivering this project, along with his colleagues across the south east. I know this is an issue that he has personally prioritised and given a lot of time to. I hate to think of the conversation we would be having had we not got to this point, considering the degree to which the Senator banged on my door to ensure Waterford and the south east were no longer neglected in terms of a lack of university presence in the south-east region.

I join the Senator in thanking everyone who has worked on this issue over a sustained period. I am conscious that I am fortunate to be the Minister in office when we reached this significant milestone. Many people have worked on this issue for a decade and, indeed, the more I look into the issue, the clearer it becomes that this work has been done for decades.

I acknowledge the two presidents, Professor Willie Donnelly of WIT and Dr. Patricia Mulcahy of IT Carlow, the chairs of the governing authorities, Mr. Jim Moore and Mr. John Moore, all the members of the governing authorities, all the staff, students and stakeholders, the business community and public representatives. They, together, working tirelessly along with Mr. Tom Boland and his project team have brought us to this point.

As the Senator knows better than most, the south east was the only region in the country without a university presence. This was a glaring anomaly and was holding the region back both in access to higher education but also attracting inward investment and jobs. One only needs to talk to IDA Ireland to hear that view. It was a significant and glaring gap on the map of Ireland which is now being addressed once and for all. The technological university will be established by May 2022. Words matter, as our President reminds us. The word "by" was not chosen accidentally. If establishment can happen earlier, it will. Yesterday was a really exciting day for higher education in the south-east region, signalling as it did the establishment next year of a multi-campus university presence across the region.

The application seeking TU designation was submitted to me jointly on 30 April. 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 on that report and any other matters of relevance. I have received and considered reports and, on foot of my deliberations and extensive engagement with the two institutions, I am proposing to approve the application. In short, I can state that all parties are working towards the new university opening its doors by 1 May 2022. The HEA will now seek to confirm the finalisation of technical and operational elements. The HEA will continue to keep me informed and advise me on these matters. I wrote yesterday to the institutes' governing body chairpersons in this regard. There is now a prescribed period in law during which the institutes may make representations.

I addressed the Senator's question on establishment by May 2022. On the governing authority, this month, the Department will invite expressions of interest through a public process for the role of chairperson and two external members of what should become the first governing body of the new TU. I will also be writing to the education and training boards to seek a candidate to sit on the governing body in due course. I will encourage people to step up and come forward. Being on the governing body of this new technological university will be the epitome of public service.

The process to identify a suitable candidate to be submitted to me for designation for appointment as first president by the new technological university's first governing body will be by way of an open international competitive process, which will be run by the applicant institutes in the new year. I hope that will kick off in January.

The Senator has raised consistently the very important matter of expanding the footprint of the new university in Waterford. I want to be categorical and be crystal clear, to pardon the pun, about wanting to do this. We want to expand the footprint of the university's presence in Waterford. I have been clear in my commitment to expanding the imprint, as are the Taoiseach and Tánaiste. WIT is undertaking an appraisal process and business case process in accordance with the requirements of the public spending code. Its representatives will meet my Department and the HEA later this week. We will work with them to progress that.

On the headquarters, as I have said previously, this is legally a matter for the governing authority. That is the law. The Government does not run universities. This is an open, modern European democracy. Waterford seems like a sensible location for the headquarters for a variety of reasons, including national planning policies.

On borrowing capacity, I am very pleased with the progress being made on student accommodation under Housing for All but I accept the need to do more on this and I am very committed to doing that.


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