Minister accused of having ‘closed mind’

The Dr Jim Port report on the feasibility of a university for the south-east was described by Wexford Fine Gael Deputy Michael D’Arcy as “a political manoeuvre to get over the 2007 election.”

Speaking during Question Time with the Minister he said he could only assume she had an open mind about this application but the perception was that she does not have an open mind on this issue.

“I was speaking to my friends on the Fianna Fáil backbenches about the little one-to-one she had with Deputy Cullen and it is said she is not in favour of Waterford Institute of Technology being upgraded to a regional university,” he said.

Deputy D’Arcy said the Minister must consider the regional aspects.

“We have the highest rate of unemployment in the country, the lowest number of students attending third level courses and the lowest number of graduates returning to the region, the lowest level of disposable income and the lowest rate of gross valued-added product,” he said. “The Minister cannot ignore these issues. Has the Minister an open mind about the upgrading of Waterford Institute of Technology to the status of a regional university?”

In reply, the Minister said any consideration of a university for anywhere, be it the Dublin Institute of Technology or the Waterford Institute of Technology, must be based on very strict academic criteria, on the case made for the region and must be considered in the context of national education policy.

“We are very well served by the existing dual system of the institutes of technology and of the universities which have served to develop our regions, to strengthen our economy and in particular, to support society,” she said.

One of the issues highlighted in the Port report was that we do not have set criteria under section 9 of the Education Act and this needed to be re-examined. The section stated merely that it should be in keeping with sections 12 and 13 of the Act but it did not set out the criteria and the hoops that must be jumped.

“With regard to the third level participation rate, Waterford is does not have the lowest rate in the country; it is below average but its participation rate has increased by 8%,” she said. “It is interesting to note that the highest rates of participation in the country are in counties which do not have a university. The highest rates are in counties Kerry, Sligo, Leitrim.”

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