MIXED OPINIONS FROM OIREACHTAS MEMBERS
Minister of State Paudie Coffey (Fine Gael): “Michael Kelly has been appointed as the independent facilitator (by Minister Jan O’Sullivan) and has been asked to report on the best structure to implement the (WIT/ITC merger) project and the potential timescale.
“Mr Kelly is former chair of the Higher Education Authority and will bring his considerable experience to assist both WIT and ITC in this process.
“Minister O’Sullivan has requested that Mr Kelly broaden the consultation to ensure that the voice of other social and economic partners in the South East feeds into the process.
“In addition to providing excellent education opportunities this project has the capacity to add to the economy and social fabric of the region.
“I firmly believe in the merits of this project for the region and I want to see the process reinvigorated.
“I fully acknowledge the work that the leadership of both institutions have committed to the project; but now is the time for both institutes to step up to the mark and achieve their full potential for the well-being of the citizens, institutes and economy of the South East.
“Given the set-backs in this matter I believe that the appointment of an experienced, impartial third party to engage with both institutions and the wider community has the capacity to deliver a technological university in the South East and the contribution it can make to the region.
“I am pleased that the Government has made a direct intervention to put this vital project back on course and I will continue to pursue this matter until it is delivered.”
Deputy John Halligan (Independent): “Minister O’Sullivan is continuing to reiterate the Government’s desire to see a university created in the South East through a merger of WIT with IT Carlow, despite genuine concern amongst lecturers that this will not yield an internationally-recognised university
“For the merger to work, there would have to be lots of buy-in from staff and this is certainly not the case to date. The findings contained in the draft report of Professor John Taylor, that WIT’s key performance indicators would suffer if a merger were to take place with Carlow, remain unaddressed.
“Why would the Government continue to force through a merger with a weaker institute? It is incomprehensible and suggests that cutting costs and creating a larger institute are the only criterion that the Government is really interested in.
“To suit its own agenda, the Government is attempting to force WIT into a merger that will reduce its academic metrics. I can see little that will add to the quality of WIT by merging. There’s also the worry that the merger will undermine the regional mission which has been building up for over 20 years, with specific focus on local industry.
“Forcing it through is already causing a lot of bad blood between the two campuses. It could also do serious damage to the quality and quantity of courses on offer, as well as to the region as a whole.”
Senator David Cullinane (Sinn Féin): “I am an enthusiastic supporter of a multi-campus university in the Southeast but not at any price. I am certain that dark forces within the department, the HEA and a minority within both institutes are working against the process. This is unacceptable. Academic politics must not hold back progress.
“As I told Minister O’Sullivan in the Seanad last week , the stalled process is a disaster. It is far too simplistic to place the blame at the feet of both institutions. That would be entirely wrong and inappropriate. She needs to steady the ship. She needs to stay the course.
“The south east is the only region without a university. This educational apartheid must end. The south east needs a university but not one at any price and not one that damages either institute.
“The solution is partly in the Minister’s hands. She can change the phasing and the legislation to keep this process on track. More consultation is not the solution and I have urged her to do everything humanly possible to make this a reality.
“As I put it directly to Minister O’Sullivan: ‘Why you are obsessed with a flawed process? Are you open to change? Why is full university status not being considered for the south east? And did your meeting with the former Chairperson of WIT influence his decision to resign? These are important questions which you need to answer’.”
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