‘The argument that we have enough universities is facile’

Anyone availing of the ‘Ireland has enough universities’ line is making a facile, ill-informed argument, according to the Friends of the University of the South East (FUSE).

In a comprehensive letter to the National Strategy for Higher Education, FUSE’s Dr Mark Rowe makes plain the case for Waterford Institute of Technology’s (WIT) upgrade to university status.

He was writing in response to the notice issued by the Department of Education in several national newspapers on May 15th which sought submissions on the development of a new vision for higher education.

Dr Rowe said any arguments about the current number of universities in the Republic being sufficient to our needs “is not borne out internationally”.

He added: “Finland, a world leader in higher education, with a population of 5.2 million against the Republic’s 4.2 million has 20 universities compared to our seven.”

Dr Rowe continued: “With the Higher Education Authority reporting that over 7,000 full-time students from Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford had to leave the region in the 2006-07 academic year to receive a university education, the ‘brain drain’ must not be allowed to continue.

“The case for the University of the South East has been many years in the making, it is socially and economically sound, it is necessary to ensure balanced social and economic development in Ireland and – above all – it is just and equitable.”

The case for the USE didn’t seem to enamour Tánaiste Mary Coughlan all that much during her recent visit to Waterford.

When asked about WIT’s bona fides, Minister Coughlan scored a major own-goal locally, stating that she “didn’t necessarily agree” with those recommending University status for Waterford, before making a case for a University in Letterkenny!

Referencing the benefits that the University of Limerick had brought to the mid-west, Dr Rowe said there was nothing in his mind which suggested that WIT’s upgrade wouldn’t bring similar benefits to the south east.

“The innovative way in which (UL) was delivered and developed with a mix of public and private sector support provides a roadmap for how a higher education institution of similar calibre can be provided in the south east with its comparable population,” he added.

Citing Dr Jim Port’s positive recommendation for WIT in his Government-commissioned report, Dr Rowe wrote that the long-sought upgrade would help address many of the region’s unmet needs.

If this dream is realised, the USE will permit future generations to “enjoy the equity of opportunity that motivated the late Donogh O’Malley to radically open out educational participation” over 40 years ago.

WIT’s application was sound, he contended. It “is not based on self-assessment or vanity but rather arises from legitimate appetite to address discrimination”.

Wrote Dr Rowe: “Strong regions…require strong universities that support not only regional but also national priorities.

“In the southeast, communities as diverse as business and industry; sport and hospitality; the trade union movement and public representatives are as one in recognising the region’s deficiencies and the huge catalytic impact that the University of the South East can have.”

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4 Responses to “‘The argument that we have enough universities is facile’”

  1. Paul O'Brien Says:

    When will the D4 Media & politicians realise that Dublin isn’t the only city that should have a university? This apartheid system towards the South-East is no better than the way that catholics were kept out of education in the old days in Trinity. What will it take for goverment to see the light & realise that the whole country will benefit from upgrading WIT & NOBODY LOSES!

  2. Dr. Brendan McCann Says:

    I’m sure the mandarins at WIT are aware of the reputation that ETH in Zurich, Switzerland, and MIT in Boston carry with them. In research terms they have been at the cutting edge for decades. Neither, of course is a university. Does Ireland need another university or does it need a high quality technical institute that sets new standards in research and learning in the context of a technical institute? Much of the debate on this subject seems to be focussed on perceived discrimination and local politicking. Would a high quality IT be of more value to this great little nation at this time than another university? Can we afford it?

  3. Dr Ray Griffin Says:

    A wholly inappropriate comparison- ETH (9,000 staff, 15,000 students budget €833.6m) and MIT (1,000 staff, 10,000 students and budget US$500m) with WIT (1,000 staff, 10,000 students and budget €45m). Both ETH and MIT are universities; its just not in their name. More importantly both ETH and MIT are global institutions, that are both around 150 years old and are cherished (and invested in) by their nations.
    Perhaps a fairer comparison is between the similarly aged and sized institutions of DCU (1,000 staff, 10,000 students and budget €90m+) and UL (1,000 staff, 10,000 students and budget €90m+). Why are the 10,000 students in these institutions lavished with twice the investment of an IoT student?
    The FUSE and USE argument is about investment in the region- the South East does not get a fair share of the national cake because the Government maintains two separate cakes- one reasonably well-funded university sector and a threadbare IoT sector.
    That is not perceived discrimination, it is real discrimination. It is not about vanity of titles or plumage- it is about the young people of this region, balanced regional development and quality of life for everyone in the South East. Can the South East afford to continue to be left behind in investment in tertiary education? Best wishes to Dr Rowe and his good works on behalf of all in our region.

  4. Dr. Brendan McCann Says:

    Your reply confirms that the focus is not on investment in research in the “technical fields”, but rather on name-changing to attract funding. Would it not be more appropriate to address the core issue – why does our education system value (as reflected in funding levels), institutions that churn out doctorates in the humanities over those that have a focus on technology? Your argument about discrimination could apply to Donegal, Kerry, Longford etc.etc. Lobbying should therefore be aimed at changing the funding system, and not about WIT vs UCW.

    Le Meas

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