Labour leader backs University of the South East

The Leader of the Labour Party, Eamon Gilmore, spoke out in favour of a University of the South East during a visit to the city on Thursday last.

Delivering the Michael O’Brien lecture at Waterford Institute of Technology, Deputy Gilmore said that a University of the South East was important for the economic development of the region. He also argued that regional policy has been characterised by an ‘air of unreality’ that had seen economic development unevenly spread across the State.

The Labour leader said: “Despite all the economic growth of the past two decades, the most recent county-level CSO data for disposable income per capita, show marked inequalities across the State.  While income in Waterford itself is just below the national average and the more salient fact is that income per head in the South East as a whole is almost 20 per cent below the Dublin level.

“As one might expect, the picture is even starker when we look at productive activity.  Again, using the South East region as an example, gross value added per person in 2005 in the South East region was 26% below the national average. A similar pattern is to be found to a greater or lesser extent in other regions, indicating a post-boom Ireland with great inequalities across regional economies.”

Key driver

Deputy Gilmore went on to argue that a University of the South East would be a key driver of economic growth in an era when regions compete for international investment.

“Third level institutions are an essential driver of regional economic growth. They are important in attracting industry to a region, and in persuading young people to stay in the region.  Their research capacities are sought after by firms and the presence of a university is a vital element in attracting firms to invest in the region.

“Over time, their research and teaching activities can develop to meet the specific needs of the regional economy and are an important source of direct employment.

“It is clear from the Port report that WIT has the potential to grow from a high performing Institute of Technology to University Status.  I believe that the question of university status for WIT should be considered on its own merits, and in the context of the needs of this region.”

Mr Gilmore also warned that the concept of a University of the South East should not be seen in an economic context alone, stating that “university status brings with it as many responsibilities as privileges.”

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