This newspaper has long taken a clear and definitive stance on the pressing education issues affecting Waterford and the south east.
Top of that agenda for over a decade now has been the issue of university status for the region, which yet again appears to have been shot down by the powers that be.
Reading Saturday’s ‘Irish Times’, it was difficult not to feel the temperature rising when reading about how an upgrade for WIT “would dilute the role of the institutes, whose jobs and technology focus is seen as essential to help build the national skills base”.
The report compiled by Dr Jim Port, which has been in cabinet hands since BEFORE the general election, has spoken of the boost that the University of the South East would bring to the region. Well tell us something we didn’t know already.
Writing in Saturday’s ‘Times’, Sean Flynn said the report “focuses on the negative impact on the other 13 institutes and the overall potential damage to the Irish higher education sector”.
The official verdict on WIT’s application for university status is imminent, but given what’s been revealed in recent days, it already looks like the decision has been made.
Speaking in the city last Friday, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that any upgrade in Waterford could not be achieved in isolation.
It’s all too eerily reminiscent of what occurred when Waterford RTC became WIT, which catalysed an academic hissy-fit that led to all other RTCs receiving a similar upgrade.
Why couldn’t such an upgrade be commissioned in isolation? Is there some unwritten rule out there which decrees that if one third level body gets something, then everyone else has to get it too?
If this is the case, and given WIT’s recent experiences it’s difficult not to think so, our policy makers need to get their heads out of the sand and fast.
Waterford is the largest city in Ireland without a university. Fact. WIT has made an outstanding case for an upgrade and has done so for several years, both officially and otherwise. Fact.
The expansion of the Cork Road campus and the development of the West Campus at Carriganore singles WIT out in the third level sector currently. Fact.
The National Spatial Strategy identified Waterford as a gateway for regional development. Fact. Fulfilling that particular Government target would be significantly enhanced by the granting of university status for the south east. Fact.
I, like many thousands of others before me and since, have had to travel to other cities to pursue third level education. Fact.
Thousands of parents across the region have faced the financial burden of sending their children to university elsewhere, with many households receiving no grants whatsoever. Fact.
By the way, consider the savings to the Exchequer if there were a university headquartered in Waterford.
Maintenance grants would be dramatically reduced and would help the belt-tightening called for by Brian Cowen to go in a notch or two.
Bertie’s isolation comment was a most telling one. Indeed, it’s all the more telling when one looks at how geographically isolated WIT is when compared to fellow university aspirants DIT, whose southside campus is a scroll’s throw from Trinity College.
There is a large population base that stretches well beyond Waterford’s boundary that continues to be disenfranchised due to the absence of a regional university.
After all, this is an issue that ought to concern and even outrage students and parents in Graiguenanagh and Gorey as much as it does those in Gaultier, for example.
If one could describe an issue affecting the cause of five counties as parish pump politics, then we’re talking about one hell of a big pump.
It’s why the lack of a cohesive cross-party approach in campaigning for a University of the South East has been disappointing.
When one considers the regional contingent sitting in both Houses of the Oireachtas who could, if the willingness was there, to speak with one voice on this issue, how much further down the road would WIT’s upgrade bid now be?
Not for one second do I doubt how hard Martin Cullen has lobbied on WIT’s behalf to make the university dream a reality.
Above all other local representatives, he is the one who potentially stands to benefit most from a positive outcome to the bid. The reverse, of course is also true, such is the nature of politics and public perception.
That it’s taken this long for details of the ‘Port Report’ to be made public is also questionable in itself, when one considers that it was presented to the Government before the general election.
Though almost a week old, Bertie’s isolation soundbyte still craws in the mind. It appears that those who have the power to declare otherwise appear determined to keep Waterford academically isolated.