Wednesday, 3 October 2012
Institutes of Technology
I make a direct appeal, on behalf of the people of Waterford and the south east, to the Minister of State and the Government to expedite the placement of a university in the region. We have had a long-running campaign for a university for the south east, jumping over all the hurdles and through all the hoops over the years. Numerous reports, including the Hunt report, have been favourably disposed to Waterford Institute of Technology becoming a university for the south east.
The region has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 19%, which is 5% above the national average. We have a real crisis of unemployment, as well as underemployment, in the south east. There is a real danger of Waterford city and county councils being forced to amalgamate which will, in turn, downgrade the gateway and city status of Waterford. It is critically important the Government makes the right decisions for Waterford and the south east on all of these issues.
The Minister and the Higher Education Authority, HEA, commissioned an expert group to examine higher education. Its report, which has been leaked, recommends a national university with a campus to be based in both Dublin and Waterford. It is important the Minister does not let this report sit on the shelf but publishes it in order that we can all examine the proposals about the national university, as well as the impact it may have on Waterford. We do not just want a name change but a university that has the capital, finance, autonomy and the ability to meet the needs of the south east. In a recent jobs announcement in Limerick, the company involved said one reason it chose the location was because of the university there. We see jobs announced for Dublin, Cork and Galway but precious little for Waterford. It makes sense to the people there that they are disadvantaged because they do not have a university. The previous Government failed to deliver a university for Waterford. The Government has the opportunity to deliver on this not just for the people of Waterford but for the people of the south east.
I thank the Senator for getting his point across without having to read any notes. Waterford Institute of Technology has a good name and I understand the Senator?s point.
The Government has endorsed the national strategy for higher education to 2030 which was published in early 2011 as the roadmap for the future development of our higher education system. The objective of the higher education reform programme that is being pursued is to create a more flexible and outward facing higher education system, one which is responsive to the diverse needs of students and society and delivers a high quality student experience. The reform programme will require several system changes to support these objectives. These will include: the development of a smaller number of higher education institutions of significant strength and critical mass governed according to best modern practice; a sustainable system of funding to allow for further growth and development with public funding more aligned to national priorities and needs; and a more performance-oriented system with much more transparent data flows to assess outcomes and impacts and strengthened accountability for institutions according to agreed performance contracts.
The implementation of the reform programme is being overseen by an implementation group chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills. A detailed implementation plan, updated regularly, is published on the Department's website. As part of the implementation process, Towards a Higher Education Landscape, published in February 2012, initiated a process of engagement by the HEA with higher education institutions with a view to providing the Minister with advice on how the higher education system should be configured to deliver on the objectives of the reform programme as provided for in the strategy and further articulated in the landscape documents. As part of this process, all publicly-funded institutions were asked to make submissions to the HEA on their future strategic development within the system. The HEA has also commissioned several other inputs, including from a panel of six international experts and the ESRI. When the process of analysing the institutional submissions against the objectives and recommendations in the national strategy and the landscape documents is completed, the HEA will publish the inputs it has received.
Regarding the evolutionary pathway laid out in the national strategy for institutes of technology, the landscape document also sets out a clear four stage process and criteria for institutes of technology which wish to apply for designation as a technological university. This process and the criteria have been endorsed by the Government.
The Minister of State is taking this debate on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills. The response says a lot, but says nothing. It speaks of more process, more delay and more analysing. That is the last thing the people of Waterford and the south east need.
There is much in that Higher Education Authority report of which the Minister of State spoke. It talks about other institutions in the State. There is a great deal of opposition to some other mergers contained in it and I hope that the issue of a university for the south east does not become lost in a bigger battle taking place among other institutions and universities, and that university politics does not come into play and prevent the people of Waterford from getting what they need.
The people of Waterford will not tolerate more delays. We do not need more analysis. The case is compelling and unassailable. For all of the following reasons - our critical mass, the fact we are not operating on a level playing field and the fact we have one hand tied behind our back in the south east - we need a university. I ask the Minister of State to use his influence in the Cabinet and talk to the Minister for Education and Skills to ensure that the issue of a university for the south east is not lost in some bigger battle that might play out in terms of reforming higher education in the State.
As the Senator stated, the politics within universities goes back a long time in Ireland and sometimes that mould must be broken. I will deliver the message directly to the Minister, Deputy Quinn. I urge the Senator to continue his fight because if he keeps at it, it always works out.