‘Cosy cartel’ mustn’t block

Dear Sir,

Another local newspaper recently gave front page headlines to an argument against WIT’s bid for University status. The paper has every right to publish this argument just as Dr. Constantin Gurdgiev has every right to express his opinion. However, on a matter of such importance to the South East Region, I would have expected an editorial comment or a strong rebuttal from Waterford’s Government Representatives, this will hopefully be forthcoming.

Meantime, I would take strong issue with the description of Dr. Constantin Gurdgiev as an “independent academic and commentator”. The man may be an academic, but he is certainly not an independent commentator on this issue. Indeed, he does not even attempt to hide where his vested interests lie. The main thrust of Gurdgiev’s argument is the protection of the status quo to suit the perceived needs of Trinity College and the other established Colleges in Ireland at the expense of fourth level educational development in the South East Region where it is most needed. It is obviously his opinion that the cosy cartel of established Universities must be protected from competition at all costs.

By gratuitously talking about the devaluation of degrees from bachelor to PhD level, Dr. Gurgievs is unwittingly casting a slur on the quality of Degrees from his own University, Trinity College. The fact is that several of WIT’s highly qualified and motivated lecturing staff are indeed graduates of the same Trinity College. They and their colleagues are well capable of rising to the challenge which the added responsibilities of an emerging University would bring. In this they would be aided and abetted by the recruitment of eminent and experienced personnel from other Institutes of proven record.

Dr Gurgiev expresses worry about Trinity losing some of its funding should WIT and DIT become Universities. “We have the cake. Let’s keep it to ourselves” mentality -”and let no one else have a slice.” But what if WIT has worked hard, made its case and has earned a slice? Dr. Gurdgiev does not want to hear. His attitude contributes to a Policy of Educational Exclusion regarding an entire Region, this in a Country that likes to pride itself on our supposedly Progressive Education system and Balanced Regional Development Policies – Let us see the proof and delivery of some of these policies! The case for funding of each University and prospective University should be based on track record, potential and merit – and not on the vested and selfish interests of any one institute or group of institutes. The funding may currently be in short supply from the exchequer but that should not mean that Institutes with merit should not demand their share of the funding so that they too can progress.

In slating the merits of Regional considerations in the University status bid, Dr. Gurdgiev seems to forget the historic origins of his own University founded as it was amid the sectarian and elitist bias of the times but also with very valid regional considerations. Trinity College has come a long way during its illustrious history and produced great scholars of world renown. Long may it continue to do so.

But in protecting his ivory tower and wanting to build that tower even higher, it is sad that an academic like Constantion Gurdgiev would begrudge a progressive and an up and coming institute like WIT from entering into the academic competition stakes. What is the man afraid of? He mentions the top 100 Universities of the World. So what? Waterford cannot be expected to start among the top 100 – no more than Trinity did – but it will aspire to working its way up.

If Dr. Gudgiev wants to remind us of the “great Universities” then let me quote another academic of international acclaim with a background in the great Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh and South Australia – Dr. Ged Martin. Dr. Martin has studied all the issues involved and is unwavering in his support of a University for the South East – and I quote him “As we move deeper into the twenty-first century, the concept of the University must continue to burst out of its ivied walls to involve itself more deeply in Community and Region. The University of the South East will inherit the wider traditions of academic freedom and the standards of scholarly discourse. But when it comes to the exciting challenge of the practical reconciliation of third-level, undergraduate-centered education with fourth-level, research focused intellectual activity, it will be at Square One, along with every other University in the World from Galway to Gottingen, Harvard to High Wycombe. The sooner WIT is granted the freedom and the University Title to tackle those issues, which it is already so well equipped to confront, the better for the Region, for Ireland and for the work of education and the cause of scholarship.”

Let Waterford’s case be taken on its objective merits – not on the fears of other institutes which may feel threatened by the arrival of the new kid on the block who has high aspirations to succeed.

It would be a help if Minister Hanafin would immediately publish the report carried out by Dr Jim Port, the “independent” person that she herself appointed to examine WITs application for University Status.

Senator Paudie Coffey (FG)

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