The Technological University (TU) process which the Waterford IT/IT Carlow bid is party to has been described as ‘a fudge’ by a former member of WIT’s Governing Body.
Independent City & County Councillor Mary Roche expressed her fears about the entire process to The Munster Express, which she feels, comes with a hint of ‘Groundhog Day’ to it from a WIT perspective.
“It really does feel like we’ve been here before, and I cannot shake that feeling off when it comes to WIT’s future,” said Cllr Roche, “yet it appears that I am the sole political voice in Waterford at this stage who is against the idea of Technological University status”.
Explaining her opposition, Cllr Roche stated: “The only question to be answered for me in the TU debate is, and it’s the only question that matters is this: does it give us equality with the other cities? Is what’s being proposed give us equality and if it doesn’t, it is merely embedding the inequality which we have suffered from over the last few decades.
“As far as I’m concerned, the Technological University issue is to IT status what IT status was to RTC status, so what I feel it will do, if that status is delivered, is that it won’t ‘jump us up’ or bring us over any other ITs, it actually going to be a means of ensuring that we will never get regional equality when it comes to the South East’s third level offering.”
Cllr Roche continued: “If there was a trademark for the word ‘University’ that was established and considered sacrosanct globally, such trademarking shouldn’t allow Ireland to use the word ‘University’ when it comes to what they’re proposing for Waterford, and all the other (applicant) ITs for that matter. Because what’s being put forward simply isn’t a University.” Mary Roche said a University has three undisputed characteristics: funding, autonomy and branding (FAB). “This (TU bid) doesn’t come with the funding equal to the Universities, it doesn’t have autonomy in decision making equal to the Universities and yes, it does have the branding, but you could re-titled WIT with any name imaginable, and I know I’m not alone when it comes to stating this, but changing the name has never been the issue here. If changing the name was the issue, then anyone who owns a ladder, a hammer and a few nails could give us University status. But what is being proposed, as far as I’m concerned, means that we will never get University status in Waterford because a Technological University is not the same entity.”
She added: “If WIT wishes to remain known as WIT, then I’m fine with that; I’ve absolutely no issue with that. Funding, autonomy and investment are the major issues at play here (and) dedicated money for research is another major issue of course: but none of those, on my reading of the situation, come with the introduction of a Technological University, and it’s as simple as that.”
Last July, we reported that, in the absence of a University, Waterford and the wider region is missing out on an annual spend of €400 million, including €70m of direct spending.
Writing in the South East Economic Monitor, WIT academic Dr Ray Griffin claimed that a full University upgrade would put WIT on a level playing field with the University of Limerick (UL).
Dr Griffin, who co-authors the Monitor with Accountancy and Economics colleagues, Dr Cormac O’Keeffe and Lecturer John Casey, stated that two thirds of students from the region (just over 13,500), leave the South East to pursue their third level education.
“It is estimated that the additional cost per annum of a student living away from home is €11,000, which suggests an annual transfer of €148m (after tax income lost) to other regions,” the report reads.
“The region is missing 7,480 higher education places (in 2017), which is an additional 220 over last year’s number.”
Dr Griffin, a Lecturer in Strategy at the Department of Management & Organisation, added that the social cost of Waterford’s being a University city “is incalculable but in 20 years (such a status) would close the economic gap between the South East and Dublin”.
Incidentally, the €70m figure was arrived at when this newspaper queried what 5,000 additional student places would mean for the region.
“We are a long way from the optimism of WIT’s 2005 university application and the 2008 Fine Gael promise for a proper University,” he added.
According to WIT, the TU’s mission “will differ in several respects from that of the Institute of Technology, most particularly in the sophistication of its model for regional and national engagement, its acknowledged and demonstrable international relevance, its research profiles, and its approach to teaching and learning…(and) the most meaningful expression of the university’s vision will be in the kind of graduates the university produces”.
The proposed TU “will have a clear and acknowledged international standing in strategic research areas and will be successful in disseminating and exchanging new knowledge. It will collaborate strategically with international partner universities and stakeholders to deliver on its vision and to impact positively regionally, nationally and beyond.
“(The TU) will measure its success by the impact it has on its stakeholders locally, nationally and internationally. The quality of its programmes, its teaching, and its innovation and research activities will be demonstrable and consistent with the performances of top-ranking Technological Universities worldwide.”