Michelle Clancy reports
Reacting to a suggestion by Higher Education Authority member Prof Anthony Staines that the merger between Waterford and Carlow ITs to create a Technological University would cost a minimum of €4 million, current President Willie Donnelly said this figure is a gross underestimation.
“I don’t know how they come up with these numbers. The reality is the funding model for a university has to be different to an IT. We do not want a second class university, we want one that has the funding that will allow it to deliver.”
Key to this, Professor Donnelly says, is the delivery of a new Engineering building on the Cork Road campus.
Approval for a new Engineering and Science Building, Architecture Building and Business and Enterprise extension was granted in 2008 under a public/private partnership but this was pulled during the economic collapse.
“It’s crucial that we deliver the Engineering building on the campus, we’re down 40,000 square metres in terms of space for the students we have. That alone will cost €34 million.
“We also need a Business School building, we need to bring Humanities from College Street to the Cork Road. College Street is an old building, it’s not fit for purpose and there’s little we can do with it because of its protected status. My long-term ambition is of a single, integrated campus, because it really adds to the sense of community, having everything at the one location.
“To do any of this, the institute needs huge investment, regardless of whether or not it becomes a university. People have to be honest about the investment that’s needed. But it’s an investment in the economic development of the region. The core infrastructure needs huge investment and that’s been communicated to government. We’re just fooling ourselves if we think we can deliver a university of international standing on a yellow pack budget.”
Prof Donnelly added: “We’re talking about areas with 14 or 15% unemployment – the government has to decide where it wants to spend the money but they will see the result if they invest in WIT. You just look at Carriganore, for example.
“Over 1000 jobs have been created by companies that spun out of there and that’s thanks to the research and innovation. Westpharma came here because of the quality of the undergraduate teaching and the research in biopharma. There can be a disconnect between investment and impact but all of the industries here are competing for highly qualified people. And when they try to bring people into the region, one of the first questions asked is where the university is. We’ve been successful so far as an Institute but there’s only so much we can do.”