Campaign to redefine WIT as university hits snag

DISAGREEMENTS have emerged between campaigners who are hoping to re-designate one of the country’s largest institutes of technology as a university.

Fine Gael senator John Paul Phelan said yesterday that closer links between institutes of technology in Cork and Waterford would be bad news for the south-east and drag jobs towards Cork.

The government-sponsored Hunt Report on further education recommended new ties between ITs across the country but, according to the Kilkenny- based senator, a merger of any kind between CIT and WIT would not serve the south-east well.

His views are in conflict with comments by WIT academics who welcomed Tuesday’s publication of the Hunt Report as an important roadmap and a framework for WIT to “advance in unique and distinctive ways”.

A campaign has been ongoing for years for an upgrade of WIT to university status but the Hunt Report did not progress such a move.

“If Waterford merges with Cork, jobs will be dragged in that direction and surrounding counties such as Kilkenny, Carlow and Wexford which are already struggling to attract new enterprise will continue to suffer,” Mr Phelan said yesterday.

The Hunt Report highlighted the pressing need for funding reform at third-level as well as “the complete inaction over 14 years by successive Fianna Fáil governments to plan for growth in this area, according to the senator”.

“Fianna Fáil’s only response to the €500 million deficit at third level has been to put added pressure on families by introducing fees by the backdoor,” Mr Phelan said.

“If we want to regain Ireland’s position as a location for hi-tech, cutting edge new industry we have to make sure that our education system is up to the task of supplying the necessary graduates to make that ambition realistic.”

The senator’s statement came after WIT chairman Redmond O’Donoghue described the education report as an important roadmap for Irish higher education to 2030 while WIT president Professor Kieran R Byrne said that the strategy provides a framework for the institute to develop in the coming years.

“The university of technology model that the strategy recommends has parallels in several advanced economies and these universities frequently operate across multiple campuses and arecomplementary to more traditional university provision,” Mr O’Donoghue said.

Prof Byrne said that the recommendations of the report provide many opportunities and challenges.

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