WIT President underlines need for fresh investment
Eight years of underfunding at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) has been described as ‘an attack on the region’ by WIT President Willie Donnelly.
Speaking exclusively to The Munster Express, Professor Donnelly said the depletion of cash reserves at the Institute over the past decade was primarily due to the near 30 per cent cut in core budget funding since 2008.
In relation to WIT’s exhausted cash reserve, Prof Donnelly stressed: “It has nothing whatsoever to do with financial mismanagement or anything of the sort.”
That the funding cut and erosion of that reserve has coincided with a 33 per cent increase in student numbers at WIT demonstrated the Institute’s robust commitment to expanding its academic programme and physical infrastructure.
But Prof Donnelly warned that further, long-term expansion would be greatly compromised without a boost to its core budget as a single academic entity, let alone as part of a Technological University, in the event of the merger with IT Carlow proceeding.
“There’s a clear imbalance in terms of economic development when one assesses it from how the Dublin area is faring in comparison to the regions,” he said.
“And the Government needs to respond to this. Since 2008, all of the Institutes of Technology have had to avail of their cash reserves in response to both the needs of the student body, along with, in WIT’s case, our commitment to increasing activity levels in innovation, research and upskilling, which we have maintained despite the budgetary curtailment.”
Prof Donnelly added: “Action is clearly required when it comes to this regional imbalance. Eight consecutive years of funding cuts has not only negatively impacted upon WIT, despite our very best efforts, but those cuts also amount to an attack on the region. So it should be of no great surprise to anyone that unemployment in the south east stands at 10.7 per cent whereas the national figure is currently 8.5 per cent. There’s a clear, defined reason for this and it must be addressed. And it cannot be addressed without investment.”
Prof Donnelly also rejected a contention made to this newspaper last week that WIT could run out of money by February or March next. “No, there’s no danger of that happening at all, and I really don’t know where that suggestion came from,” he replied.
“In fact, we are one of the few Institutes which has not requested an early drawdown of funds (from Government) to meet or address any short to immediate term shortfalls, so there’s certainly not an issue in that respect…
“However, and again this brings me back to the issue of imbalance, and the requirement for a adequately funded and fully resourced Technological University: right now, and it has been always thus when it comes to WIT, where existing universities receive 25 per cent core funding for research – and purely for research – we get nothing.
“So in the interim, we have had to fund the expansion of our research wing ourselves, which is obviously a source of great pride to everyone in WIT, but (a) had we not suffered from such considerable cuts since 2008 and (b) had we also been sufficiently funded when it comes to investing in research, we know there’s a great deal more we could have achieved if €14.5 million that’s been cut to us over the past eight years, had remained in our budget, in addition to core research funding. Looking ahead, this simply has to change.”
Prof Donnelly, speaking on Friday last, commented: “Last week we graduated nearly 2500 students up to PhD level. Despite the decrease in funding the quality of the graduates is such that we still have the highest level of employment for graduates in the sector. Employers continue to rate WIT graduates as the top graduates on a par with the best from any university…and that’s a credit to our staff.”
Willie Donnelly said that future capital investment would ideally fulfil WIT’s long-held ambitions when it comes to the delivery of new engineering and science buildings – but shouldn’t end there.
“We clearly need investment in a range of new buildings. For example, when it comes to Humanities, the school at College Street is very old and there’s not a great deal that we can do with the building there. Looking down the track, I would like to see all of our schools based on a single campus – that’s the goal and that’s what’s in the best interest of WIT as it develops as a third level institute. But it’s worth pointing out that the proposed engineering and science buildings I referenced in a previous statement would bring us up to where we needed to be as of 2008, and that cannot be forgotten.”