Eoghan Dalton

The application for the proposed merger of Waterford Institute of Technology and IT Carlow will go ahead this week as originally planned, a meeting involving college management heard yesterday morning (Monday).

Although doubts had been expressed after academic staff at WIT voted against terms for the merger, it is now understood that the consortium driving the Technological University project will press ahead and submit the formal application by Friday.

Tom Boland, the executive director of the group, told the remote gathering that the application is on course to be submitted by the end of the week, The Munster Express has learned.

According to sources at the meeting, Mr. Boland said he would not be addressing media reports about the staff vote and said that remains a matter for WIT management to resolve.

The news will likely anger the Teachers’ Union of Ireland branch at the college, as they had hoped for time to be given to address unhappiness among some staff.

The proposed Technological University of the South East was dealt another setback last Friday, when academic staff at WIT rejected terms for the proposed amalgamation between it and IT Carlow.

WIT President Willie Donnelly responded to the ballot on Monday morning, describing his disappointment at the vote and noting a “low turnout”.

WIT President, Professor Willie Donnelly.

 “I would like to express my disappointment that the MoU for the technological university for the South East has been rejected in a ballot by the WIT Teacher’s Union of Ireland (TUI) branch members. This postal ballot by the TUI to its Waterford branch members had a low turnout. There are 542 academic staff members at WIT. Just 110 votes were cast, half that of the 2019 ballot in which 93% of those balloted voted in favour of the MoU – which was essentially the same agreement.”

Mr Donnelly added: “It is important that we focus our energies on the delivery of the technological university so desperately needed for the region and I will continue to engage in an open and productive way to deliver a university of international standing for the region.”

The Teachers Union of Ireland branch at WIT cited “treatment of members” serving on the amalgamation’s working groups as well as concerns regarding funding and governance.

With 24 percent turnout, 60 academic staff (56 percent) voted against the terms while 47 staff were in favour. In Carlow, 90 percent voted in favour of the terms on a turnout of 37 percent. 71 staff were in favour while just eight cast their ballot against the MOU.

It is understood that the branch had sought reassurances over the past nine months on the headquarters of the TU, funding arrangements and governance plans. Under current plans, the Technological University is to be founded next January.

Last week’s vote was a major reversal from when the memorandum of understanding (MOU) was put to WIT staff in 2019 – on that occasion it was overwhelmingly accepted by 93 percent of TUI members. However, the opposition came from Carlow staff for that vote.

Reacting to the ballot, Waterford TD David Cullinane (SF) called on WIT management to engage further with the TUI members.

“It is equally clear that issues in relation to funding, future governance arrangements and the location of a headquarters for the University need to be addressed,” Deputy Cullinane added.

David Cullinane called on WIT management to engage further with TUI members.

“The Minister for Higher Education has given commitments to local and regional Oireachtas members on these issues. However, it is clear that further clarity is now needed. A commitment to increase the footprint of the Waterford campus needs to be fleshed out and made clear. Delivery of future capital funding needs to recognise the educational deficit in the Southeast and recognise that for a new University to be of International standing sizeable and significant additional funding is required. In order to build confidence, the Minister should begin the process of appointing a new chair and as a consequence the process of appointing a new president. This will create momentum and provide certainty on Governance arrangements.”

In a short statement released Friday evening, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland branch at WIT confirmed the MOU’s defeat.  Concerns have been repeatedly aired in Waterford about how the university will take shape post-merger, amid concerns WIT will be sidelined by Carlow and a planned large-scale campus for Wexford. Speaking last week, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the new technological university will be “centred” on Waterford.

The secretary of the branch, Dr Kathleen Moore Walsh, announced the news: “Since June 2019 we have sought to progress issues of concern for our members in WIT regarding the MOU, but no progress was made.

 “The lack of progress, the difficult industrial relations, recent treatment of members serving on TU working groups, and concerns regarding funding and governance, has caused the previous overwhelming support of our members to decline significantly.”

She added: “We look forward to progressing the concerns of our members to get the support for the proposed TU project back on track.”

The branch’s statement said the memorandum was “essentially the same” terms which it had approved previously.

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris did not respond when contacted.  Minister of State, Mary Butler TD believes the application may now be delayed, some sources believe a dual process may be pursued, which would see the colleges press ahead with the application while trying to engage with staff.