A letter from the Department of Education to Waterford City Council contains a ‘no’ to university designation for WIT. That’s according to the interpretation of former Mayor of Waterford and Council member Pat Hayes (Lab) who said the letter ‘represents the first indication that they are refusing our application’.
A very disappointed Cllr Hayes said this week the continued absence of a university would leave Waterford and the South East nakedly vulnerable against the ravages of the economic collapse. And he challenged local Oireachtas members, supported by those from Kilkenny, Tipperary and Wexford, to demand ‘the right decision’. “, he asserted.
“When it comes to recovery from the current downturn, it is vital to have a university with research and development facilities, and the consequential potential for growth that go with it”, he said.
No time to meet delegation
“Without a university we fall behind Cork, Limerick and Galway, as well as Dublin, in terms of our ability to attract the type of foreign investment essential to that recovery”.
The Department letter, written in response to a request for the Minister, Batt O’Keeffe, to meet a Council delegation on the university issue, said such a meeting was not possible ‘due to diary commitments’.
The letter, signed by his private secretary, further stated: “The position is that applications have been received from three higher education institutions for designation as universities. These applications raise significant issues regarding government policy towards higher education, in particular regarding the existing roles of the universities and institutes of technology which have distinctive missions from each other, provide different levels and types of academic programmes, fulfil different roles in the community and have separate academic and governance structures.
“The Minister has met with each of the three institutions concerned and the applications are under active consideration”.
It is now all of three years since WIT made application to the government for university designation and a year since publication of the long awaited report by Dr Jim Port, commissioned by the government.
Growth ‘tools’ needed
City Councillor Mary Roche (Ind) said Waterford had been devastated by job losses and, if the government’s own National Spatial Strategy meant anything, then the South East, “which alone suffers by having no university”, must be given the tools to stimulate and deliver real economic growth.
She issued a reminder that Dr Port concluded that WIT was already operating at university level and deserved to have its case properly examined. She said that examination should have been carried out before now by an international panel, as set out in the Universities Act of 1997.
“The government has the necessary legislation but instead of giving us that to which we are entitled, they have been delaying and prevaricating”. She predicted that a negative outcome to the campaign for a university would result in Fianna Fail being decimated ‘again’ in the city’s local elections.