University upset but battle is not over

Here in Waterford there will be anger on this issue and also on the failure of the Minister to grant university status.

Hiding behind the university vanguard who are opposed to the Waterford upgrade and going with their argument seems to be the Minister’s position.

The people behind the university campaign appear to be satisfied that they have achieved some progress on the issue and that many of their points about regional equality appear to be accepted.

The report from Dr. Jim Port does point to the fact that new criteria may need to be established so that the Institutes of Technology can be upgraded. They say a path should be clear to follow and at present there is some ambiguity.

The Department of Education is at fault for this ambiguity. In the past they would have been guided by the universities and their sector on higher education.

They probably have not previously encountered a campaign in the third level sector like this from the south east.

The last time the Department caved into the likes of Cork RTC when Waterford got an upgrade from RTC and called itself an Institute of Technology without going through the formal process.

Minister Martin Cullen is anxious that Waterford gets a name change soon to reflect change. This may be harder to achieve.

Waterford Institute of Technology has much research going on which is one of the criteria, the quality of graduates is also superior to many of the other ITs. Quality will be an issue it seems.

The university sector are pointing out that there are enough already with 7, including Maynooth, DCU and UL, the latest upgrades and why have more.

Is there not a case for a technological university that has higher entry standards than an Institute of Technology, attracting a better quality student.

If it is not a university they could go to Cork or Limerick, the main current competitors to Waterford.

UCC has over 12,000 students and they are probably the most at risk in terms of student numbers if Waterford gets an upgrade. They acknowledge the regional argument.

Other universities argue that we cannot afford it in a small country to have 8 or more universities. They suggest that we could end up with an American style situation with universities of lesser quality, if current rules are relaxed.

We made the case for the gateway city and to move opportunity out of traffic-clogged Dublin. The regional argument is good but looking forward the universities seem to have the Minister’s ear more.

Regional inequality, lower incomes and less foreign investment are some of the south east arguments compared to the mid west, Galway and Cork.

Current Government instability is not helping, as Environment Minister John Gormley pointed out this week. There is no doubt that the campaign must continue, but the next point will be on how to make the case that quality will not be brought down by the Waterford and south east upgrade. Limerick has proven this point and Waterford will do likewise.

Dr. Jim Port did see a lot of positives in Waterford’s case, but the Department of Education ahs yet to be won over. A new type of offensive is needed in what is a very long battle.

This may require more widespread analysis, getting criteria from Government must be the first part of this plan. This is not yet clear.

Given how long it took to issue the Port Report we wonder how much time it will take to receive such information, which will also allow other Institutes to apply like Dublin Institute of Technology who on standards have also a good case.

Will it take another election? Where does Fine Gael sit on this? What does their Education Spokesman have to say. We know that Labour have been consistently in favour and in a new and different Administration may have that portfolio. That could be a long way off but Brian O’Shea’s influence could be positive here.

Overall though there is some disappointment with the outcome especially at Waterford Institute of Technology and among various opinion leaders in the area. Have heart, we say, the battle is not yet lost, nor is it over.

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