Justine Dwyer

A five-year strategic plan, with multi million euro capital investment is on the cards for SETU, according to the University’s new president, Professor Veronica Campbell last week.

However, on the thorny issue of SETU’s Headquarters, President Campbell was less forthcoming and adamant that it was just a legal administrative address.

In her presentation to Waterford City and County Council, President Campbell said SETU were legally required to have an administrative address. She said the decision was taken by the Governing Body to have the address in Waterford for now and for diplomatic reasons, change it to Carlow in two years’ time.

“The wider issue plays out externally, and that is the issue of the headquarters. I ask you what happens in a university headquarters? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter to me where it is to be honest. It doesn’t matter to my SETU colleagues. We have far more important things to focus on. It’s no disadvantage to Waterford for the legal address to be in Carlow and it’s no disadvantage to Carlow to have the legal address in Waterford.”

She continued that they were at a very important juncture at SETU right now.   “We are at the cusp of starting our first strategic plan, which will be a five-year plan and have very specific activities that we will undertake and accompanied financial underpinning which is essential.”

A technological university, she explained, was different to an Institute of Technology adding that there were many more demands placed on a technical university. “A key distinction is a Technical University will engage in research. There is a huge obligation to ensure that we are engaging in research of excellence and impact.”

This, said Professor Campbell, was going to position SETU into the future. “We lay the groundwork down now, building on the legacy of the former Institute of Technology.”

“How do we bring all those policies and aspirations into reality – this is where the strategic plan is really important. We have an ambition to be a leading European Technological University that will bring new knowledge, experience and expertise into the south east, as well as being very regionally focussed.”

She went on to say that access to education was extremely important. “How can we make sure that the people from the South East can access excellent higher education that’s on their doorstep? How can we support those students to ensure they are successful in the courses they register for?”

SETU also needed to review their portfolio of courses. “We need to ensure that our students are equipped with the skills that are required by our industries and organisations across the region. We need to make sure our physical  infrastructure and digital infrastructure is fit for purpose and that will take investment.”

At present, Professor Campbell said they were working on their internal consultation process. Very soon they would be opening that up to external consultation with regional stakeholders.

Independent Councillor Davy Daniels thanked Professor Campbell for her presentation and asked about capital funding going forward. He also asked about student accommodation. “Are we getting funding for that going forward for the next five years?”

His Independent colleague, Cllr. Mary Roche said there were a couple of key issues, one of which was the brain drain from the South East. “That is what we hope and expect SETU to address. Secondly the lack of investment – the South East has really been short changed in terms of how much investment goes into the region. What resources do you think you will need to halt the brain drain?”

Professor Campbell replied that the points members raised were very much the points that were front and centre for her as well.  “It is absolutely essential that we invest in our physical infrastructure. We are bursting at the seams. I was very clear with the department and the HEA about the requirements we have. The application has gone in for an engineering building, work is expected to commence on site next year.”

But, she continued: “We need more than that. I’m estimating at least €250 million worth of capital infrastructure is needed. That is the scale of investment that is required over a period of time.”

Student accommodation is very much on the agenda, she told councillors adding that she had already set up a task force to try and deal with the issue.

“14,000 students leave the South East every year to study elsewhere. That is a huge brain drain. Having a technological university in our jurisdiction will hopefully reverse that along with affordable student accommodation.”

She concluded by saying the five year strategic plan was ambitious but not aspirational. “We can’t do everything so we will prioritise what we feel are the most important steps over the next five years.”

Professor Veronica Campbell