Thursday, 16 July 2015
University Status Applications
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. He will be aware that parts of the Kelly report, which has not been published but has been furnished to the Minister for Education and Skills and brought to the Cabinet, on a technological university for the south east were leaked last week. The belief was that the report was going to be discussed by the Cabinet, but I do not know whether that has happened yet. The report has been a long time in the making and we need to know whether the Minister has received it and brought it to the Cabinet and whether she intends to publish it.
I met Mr. Michael Kelly as part of his consultations. He has carried out wide-ranging consultations across the south east. He has a significant job to do, as this issue is important to the people of the south east, including my city of Waterford. At our meeting, I put it to him that what he and the Government needed to do was verify whether a technical university was possible - in my view, it is - and, if so, to recommend a reasonable timeframe within which to achieve it. He needed to determine whether additional resources would be required. It has been stated that it will take a great deal of resources to achieve a technical university in the south east within a reasonable number of years owing to differences in the situations of the Carlow and Waterford institutes of technology. He also needed to determine how to bring about a unitary vision and get both institutes onto the same page in order to deliver what will be critical infrastructure for the people of the south east.My questions for the Minister are simple. Has the Kelly report been given to the Minister? If it has, when does she intend to publish it? Does Michael Kelly validate a technological university for the south east, does he recommend a timeframe for that, does he recommend additional resources and what recommendations does he make in respect of achieving a unitary vision and a plan that will get us to the point we seek?
I thank Senator Cullinane for raising this matter as it gives me the opportunity to outline to the House the current position regarding the technological university for the south east on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.
As the Senator will be aware, the national strategy for higher education to 2030, published in January 2011, recommended the consolidation of the institute of technology sector and the creation of a small number of multi-campus technological universities. The process for designation as a technological university consists of four stages and requires the merger of two or more institutes of technology prior to application for designation as a technological university, TU.
The TU for the south east project was initiated in 2011 and consists of a consortium of two institutes of technology, the Institute of Technology Carlow, ITC, and Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT. The TU south east consortium made good progress initially and submitted a stage 1 expression of interest in 2012. However, following this initial promising start, the consortium encountered a series of challenges and difficulties and did not succeed in finalising a stage 2 plan prior to the decision by WIT to suspend merger activities in October 2014.
Following meetings with both institutes in early November 2014, the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, announced the establishment of a new process of engagement and consultation with the governing bodies, staff and students of both institutes, together with the wider community in the south east. The Minister appointed Mr. Michael Kelly to lead the process of consultation. While a ten week timeframe was initially set for the process to be completed, the timeframe to completion was extended due to a number of factors, including the change in governing authorities of both institutions at the end of quarter one in 2015.
The Minister recently met with Mr. Kelly and received his report on the outcome of the engagement and consultation process, which answers one of the Senator's questions. Mr Kelly has undertaken a very thorough and extensive consultation process with regional stakeholders on this important issue. He has met with stakeholders in all of the counties of the region in the past few months. This includes local authorities, chambers of commerce, employers, the enterprise development agencies, social and community groups as well as public representatives. I assume Senator Cullinane was one of them.
I understand that 40 meetings took place and the Minister wishes to record her gratitude to Mr. Kelly for undertaking such a comprehensive and wide-ranging consultation process and for producing a comprehensive report.
In terms of the next steps, the Minister is meeting with the two institutes shortly, either this week or next week, to discuss the findings and recommendations of the report. It is important that the Minister has the opportunity to engage with the institutes before the report is published. The Senator asked a number of questions about the report which I cannot answer because it has not yet been published. I have no doubt that the answers to his questions are in the report as I am sure Mr. Kelly covered the areas the Senator mentioned. However, they are not ready to be published yet as it is only fair to consult with the two main players first. The Minister assures the Senator that she intends to publish the report for the information of all stakeholders in the south east, and more generally, at the first opportunity thereafter.
I welcome the Minister's response. I strongly believe that this is an issue on which nobody should play party politics. It is extremely important for the people of Waterford and the south east. I accept that Minister must meet both institutes before the report is published, but perhaps the Minister of State could convey to her that she might arrange a briefing as quickly as possible for Members of the Oireachtas on what is in the report, either at the time she publishes it or beforehand. There have been leaks of the report and leaks are very unhelpful. There are all sorts of differences of opinion and there are many vested interests at play here as well, and we do not wish to see any of them get the upper hand. We must be very clear about what is being recommended. The Minister has a duty to work with all of the public representatives, including members of the Opposition. We have been very supportive of this process up to now and we are anxious for this to be delivered. I hope the Minister will agree, in the near future, to meeting the Members of the Oireachtas. I will make myself available during the summer recess to attend that important meeting.
I will certainly convey that suggestion to the Minister. She wants this to happen as well and is very supportive of it, as am I. I have visited the WIT on a couple of occasions and was very impressed with the work that is done there. I have not yet had a chance to visit Carlow IT, but I intend to do so shortly. The idea is that it would increase the offering to the area. It must be about quality as well. However, there is a great desire to make this happen. I will convey the Senator's request to the Minister that she organise a briefing for Members of the Oireachtas. I am sure that can be arranged when the time is right. It would be the wise thing to do, so I will try to make that happen.