Seanad debates

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Education Policy

2:30 pm

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

I thank my colleague for raising this important matter, not only today in Seanad Éireann but also almost daily. I am aware of his genuine, deep commitment to and understanding of the importance of a university for Waterford in the south east in terms of educational access, economic investment, balanced regional development and ensuring Waterford can harness and reach its incredible full potential. I thank him so much.

I really enjoyed being in what is now SETU with the Senator on designation day. I could sense genuine excitement and a genuine buzz from the staff and students after years of debate and discussion. Finally, we were moving forward, and finally the south east, including Waterford, was getting a university.

I thank the Senator for his comments on the appointments. I, too, think President Veronica Campbell brings an unquestionable and exceptional depth of experience to the role. I wish her well as the first president. I also wish well the governing authority, chaired by Dr. Paddy Prendergast, former Provost of Trinity College, and so many other excellent people, including the deputy chair, namely Mr. Jim Bergin, and Ms Ruth Beadle. I thank them for their work.

As the new academic year begins, students graduating from the SETU in Waterford do so with a university qualification. The institution has now taken its rightful place in a national network of five technological universities, serving all our regions and fulfilling a key commitment of the programme for Government. As the Senator rightly implied, there will be some who constantly wish to denigrate or talk down the process. It is making real, tangible progress. I believe the people of Waterford get and know that, but he is right that they want to know what is next. They are dead right to want to know that.

Since 2013, the Government has been providing significant financial support to technological universities, specifically the project in the south east, including Waterford, first through the higher education landscape fund and subsequently through the transformation fund. The establishment of the new technological university is a significant milestone for the region. I believe this new university will grow and thrive. A key part of the growth and thriving is the expansion of the footprint in Waterford. To be categoric, it is the Government's intention to physically expand the footprint of the technological university in Waterford. I am strongly committed to this, as are the Tánaiste, Taoiseach and all the other members of the Government. My Department is as well. We are doing this because we believe it will enable SETU to cater for and prepare for increased enrolments, with more students staying in and coming to Waterford, as well as delivering the infrastructural transformation that reflects its new university status and mandate. As the Senator said, we have set aside funding to ensure this capital expansion can be realised.

I am pleased to update him, as I did in my letter to him recently.Earlier this year, SETU submitted a detailed preliminary business case for expanded capacity to the HEA in accordance with public spending code requirements. In other words, it sent in a business case looking to expand the footprint. This considered demand analysis, enrolment projections, current and future space requirements and an analysis of options for delivery of the additional capacity. The HEA has issued a report to my Department in recent weeks - on 1 September, as Senator Cummins said - and my Department is now engaging with colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on taking the next step. As Minister, I am limited in terms of commercial sensitivities but I can assure the Senator, as he has asked me to, that this is a very important issue for my Department. We are keen to move on this quickly but in doing so we have to get value for money and we have to make sure we fulfil the strategic objectives of SETU. I will certainly keep Senator Cummins and Government and Oireachtas colleagues in Waterford up to date in regard to this matter. I hope I can reassure him that the support for the expansion of the SETU Waterford campus remains a key priority for me, for my Department and for the Government. I look forward to updating him further on developments in due course.


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