Tentative steps have been taken to establish a ‘broad-based’ local lobby group advocating WIT’s case for university status.
It is understood that a number of low-profile meetings have been held in the city since the leaking of the Port Report, which appeared to indicate no imminent change in WIT’s academic brief.
Speaking to The Munster Express last week, a group member said it was incumbent on those with a voice to address the practical benefits of university status to the general public.
Wishing to keep matters low-key, the source said that while the publicised element of the Port Report suggested bad news, he said that “the widely held local view was that it was quite positive”.
He said that vested interests from other universities, with funding issues particularly in mind, appeared to be very much in play with respect to WIT’s upgrade submission.
The practical benefits of a south east university, he added, had not been adequately relayed to the general public and that some of the issue’s relevancy had been lost in “vague economics”.
“People aren’t really engaging in this as an issue in the way they have with other local concerns over the past few years,” he said.
Rather than having business people talking in what he described as “abstract economic terms” about the benefits of university status, the source said the time had come to “spell it out to people”.
Citing an interesting example of the practical benefits of university status, the source referred to Galway’s demographic experience.
“A fifth of Galway’s population is now student-based, which shows the effect that having a university has on a city,” he continued. “Just consider what that has done for the Galway economy alone.
“At the moment, and until such time as WIT becomes a university, Waterford is effectively subsidising the other university cities, and this cannot go on in the long term.”
It is believed that the lobby group is drawn from across the city’s socio-economic spectrum, in an attempt to provide community-wide impetus into the campaign.
“This should be a talking point for everyone locally on a daily basis,” he added.
“In terms of the final verdict on the Port Report, well we haven’t given up on it yet. But if the recommendation on the submission proves negative a few weeks from now, we’ll keep going with this.”
Meanwhile, Education Minister Mary Hanafin has announced funding of €1.9 million to WIT which has been drawn from the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) as part of the Higher Education reform process.
WIT, UCC and CIT will pool together to develop a project “which recognises knowledge transfer as a critical component of a vibrant knowledge economy”.
The project will also examine the need for closer collaboration between Higher Education, enterprises and public authorities.
Meanwhile, Waterford Minister Martin Cullen was “delighted” yesterday with an allocation of €1,903,000 to WIT under the Government’s €97m Strategic Innovation Fund.
The monies were among 31 projects approved by Education Minister Mary Hanafin which are designed to get universities and institutes of technology to collaborate on a wide range of initiatives.
However, WIT was awarded much less compared to the country’s universities. Dublin City University was the biggest recipient with €21m, while UCD and the UL were granted €15m and €12.5m respectively. Trinity received over €7m, while UCC got more than €5 million.
Waterford is the biggest IT outside Dublin but it did not fair well when compared to the money given to other regional institutes, with Cork IT, Dublin IT, Dundalk IT, Galway/Mayo IT and Carlow IT all receiving more.
Minister Hanafin said the money would fund teaching and learning innovations at under-graduate level, including significant access initiatives for students with hearing difficulties and intellectual disabilities.
Mr Cullen, who had a well-documented disagreement with her over WIT’s university bid, said the projects funded were approved “following a competitive rigorous independent assessment by a panel of international experts.
“I am delighted therefore that WIT – undoubtedly assisted by its well-earned academic reputation – has secured this funding and will in fact be a lead partner and will spearhead a specific project involving University College Cork and Carlow IT,” he said.
The Waterford Minister added: “Resources to our local university-level Institution are vital to its future success… I believe that WIT is ready – and, importantly, worthy – of university status. The re-designation from institute of technology to university is a need founded on strong economic, academic, social and regional policy arguments.
“A University of the South-East will make a hugely positive contribution to our region and I will leave no stone unturned and I will accept no argument against the university issue and I will see it through to the end,” he pledged.