The Tanaiste, Mary Coughlan, TD, dismayed Waterford’s business, academic and political leaders on Friday last when she poured more than a little cold water on WIT’s aspiration to be upgraded to university status.
Speaking at a business conference in the city, she ignored the fact that the South East is the only region in the country without a university and all the negative consequences that follow on from that. The Tanaiste linked Waterford’s case with applications from other Institutes, failing to acknowledge that many of them are in close proximity to universities.
Responding to questions put to her by Tom Murran, incoming Deputy President of Waterford Chamber of Commerce, Ms Coughlan appeared to be of the opinion that upgrading Waterford would also mean upgrading the others and that would, in her opinion, destroy Third Level education in this country. There was no glimmer of hope in her words that she considered the WIT case to be a special, stand alone issue.
She also expressed a dislike for the Polytechnic idea that is popular and successful in England. However, she did praise WIT and the TSSG for the quality and scope of their research work. There was an opportunity to expand and create opportunity in that field, she said.
The Tanaiste, who holds a degree from UCD, suggested that, in some respects, the IDA preferred Institutes of Technology because of their flexibility. They were better than a university from an enterprise prospect, she opined.
Her cabinet colleague, the former Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, is already known not to favour WIT’s case so, with Ms Coughlan seemingly in agreement, the outlook is not good and Martin Cullen’s hopes of getting the pair, and other cabinet members against the upgrade, to change their minds appear to be very slim indeed.