Saturday, 7 May 2016

A good day for the University of the South East campaign – no mergers and no Jan O’Sullivan and Tom Boland

John Halligan announced on Facebook that ........ “I have also secured a commitment that the need  to merge with another IT will be taken out of the criteria for Technological University Status”. This is not the full university status through a section 9 review that our campaign is seeking, but it does mean that a huge threat to the future health of WaterfordIT, IT Carlow and the other ITs has been removed.

As a bonus, Jan O'Sullivan is no longer Minister for Education, who together with her predecessor Ruairi Quinn, presided over a dark period of government interventions into the running of WaterfordIT. Going out the door with her is Tom Boland. During Quinn, O’Sullivan and Boland’s time the government entertained a range of bizarre and unsubstantiated allegations at the public accounts committee, and sent two ministerial visitors to WaterfordIT - Quigley to investigate financial irregularities (he found none), and Kelly to pressurise WaterfordIT back into merger talks with IT Carlow.  The Quinn, O’Sullivan and Boland period also saw five WaterfordIT leaders depart before their time was up. These interventions hobbled WaterfordIT management while the government ran a sustained campaign to pressure WATERFORDIT and ITCarlow into a forced merger- a merger with no sensible reason or resources. With WaterfordIT having resisted this pressure and the main aggressors heading off into the wilderness; it is a good day for the  University of the South East campaign.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Inaction on the University of the South East

Compared to the big noises made during the 2011 general election campaign, when both Fine Gael and Labour promised a University of the South East, there is only silence this time around. In 2011, they both also promised not to develop Fianna Fáil’s technological university proposal. In power they forgot both of these promises. The forces for and against a University of the South East have fallen quiet, but they are now clearly in view.

There continues to be a sustained campaign for a proper University of the South East. This decades old campaign has had plenty of false dawns, let downs and disappointments; but it is not going away. The sustained assault over the past five years has made the campaign more resolute. The inspiration of the Limerick University campaign is the road-map; as well as the recognition that there is no alternative to stop the South East’s economic and social decline. In 2011 both FG and Labour tacticians correctly understood these aspirations and formally incorporated it into their manifestos and political marketing campaigns.

This meant that over the past five years the opponents to the new university have had to become more visible to halt its creation. John Walshe's book, written about his time as an aide to Ruairí Quinn says that the Waterford university question was the most contentious in cabinet with Cork, Limerick and Dublin politicians campaigning on behalf of their local universities. He also detailed the huge lobbying effort that the university presidents made to Ruairí Quinn. For evidence of how seriously UCD take the threat look at the Irish Times article penned by Peter Sutherland- in between solving the global refugee crisis Sutherland took time to support his alma mater by calling for no University of the South East. Finally, at the most recent meeting of the Public Accounts Committee the extent to which the HEA and Department of Education have interfered to damage and thwart WIT can be glimpsed at- five WIT leaders were dismissed (Kieran Byrne, Anthony McFeelly, Redmond O’Donoghue, Ruaidhrí Neavyn and Donal Ormonde), multiple inquiries, allegations and ministerial visitors- all have tried to get WIT and its regional stakeholders to abandon their ambitions.

The Technological University manoeuvre by the HEA/Department/existing universities has failed to offer any progress to the South East’s ambitions. In fact, they went further than attempting to preserve the status-quo in the creation of TUs. The technological universities are worse than a re-branding exercise because the new institutions will have a more rigidly defined academic profile, one that legally constrains its future prospects. It has been seen for what it is- a fraudulent misuse of the term university. It is bizarre that any self-respecting IoT would seek this new status.

The South East, led by WIT resisted enormous pressure by this government to apply for a technological university- it did this because the South East has been fooled before- at the time of the original IoT “upgrade”; a change without any substance. 

The supporters of University of the South East have a growing anger at FG and Labours failure to deliver what they promised; their attempt to fool the public by misusing the word university in technological university; and the ugly, personalised and nasty vendetta against key leaders in WIT and the pointed aggression towards the academic community of the South East. They also have a growing anger at the disregard of the expert opinion (that WIT is at university level) by politicians and their mandarins who are responding to pressure from the other universities. In seeking to choke the campaign, they have hardened it. The heavy price that the South East has paid- in unemployment, low income, quality of life measures and that WIT has paid in resisting political interference has just added to the campaign’s zeal.

It is for that reason, that even though this is traditionally the season in which we see our politicians at every corner- attentively listening to voters - the politicians of the South East are in hiding. You would too if you cheated your own people.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Another year when nothing happened: A WIT perspective on the university campaign.

Ten years ago, in 2005 WIT applied to become a full university. Since then it appears that the Department of Education and the HEA have actively undertaken a campaign to weaken WIT.

Specifically, three WIT Presidents and two Chairmen have been dispatched from office before their terms were served, some appeared to have been directly dispatched by the Minister.  To lose one leader may be regarded as a misfortune; for the Minster to lose five, in four years looks like an active campaign of harassment. The financial arrangements in the institution were subject to prolonged scrutiny, aimed squarely at ensuring that WIT does not behave like a university. A series of investigations were launched, all of which appear to have come to nothing, but have given the false impression of mal-administration at WIT. 

Almost a year ago, when WIT withdrew from the nonsensical ITCarlow merger the Minister appointed Mr Kelly to knock heads together. Mr Kelly is a department insider, a former head of the HEA, he sat on the Hunt Committee that came up with the TU formula to avoid giving WIT university status, powers and funding; and now as a private consultant heads the merger of the Dublin IoTs. Mr Kelly’s report does not deal with the substantive issue- that the Government has given WIT no good reason to merge. Mr Kelly’s report avoids recognising that the in the current plan all IoTs will be rebranded as TUs- a road we have been down before in the RTC to IoT non-event. At a cost of €33,000 Mr Kelly offers the ridiculous advice that all that is needed is more trust and communication between WIT and IT Carlow. The Dublin merger, not without its troubles, has the prize of Grangegorman (DIT’s new ½ a billion euro campus) at the end of it.

Both government parties continue to ignore the promises they made individually in their 2011 manifestos to deliver a fully funded, proper university to the South East of Ireland. In their programme for government they watered this down to “exploring a multi-campus Technical University in the south-east”. In power they reduced the meaning of “technological university” to nothing more than a rebranding of the whole Institute of Technology sector. TUs will not have additional powers, nor will they receive additional funding. Meanwhile the people of the South East continue to put up with double the national level of unemployment, over double the national level of emigration and significantly lower average incomes. Another year passes without anything happening.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

When Dick meets Mick .......the future of WIT



In the coming weeks, the new chair of WIT Dick Langford will meet with Mike Kelly, the Minister for Education’s special nominee to get the Waterford IT and IT Carlow merger back on track. Langford replaces Donnie Ormonde. Ormonde may or may not have been asked by the Minister to resign, after Waterford IT suspended merger talks when it became clear that the merger would not bring about a university of the south east.

The Board of Waterford IT recently affirmed that the ITCarlow merger remains suspended, and even though the Board is concerned about Kelly’s limited terms of reference, after a heated discussion they have agreed to meet with Kelly.


So what should the newly appointed Langford say?

Waterford wants to stop the city and region's steady decline. The gap between Waterford and the three other regional cities in Ireland continues to widen. A new university is required to halt that decline. Waterford IT and the regional stakeholders made that case in 2005 when applying for a 'section 9' review that could have seen WIT become a university; and that request has been ignored by the Government, the Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority.  

It is clear that a technological university, as currently proposed will not halt the decline of the South-East region and Waterford City. The proposed TU will not be funded like a university, and it will not be recognised  by the other universities as an equal. As a result it will be a pretend university. The city and region will not be bought off by this pretence.



Dick Langford, as a native Waterfordian, who grew up and was educated in Waterford and led the education services in the city, knows this better than anyone. He now has a decision to make. Will he fight for what he knows is right or will he try to sell the pretend process, with a pretend objective. His meeting with Kelly has the potential to bring clarity to a wider audience of the sell-out that has been attempted.  

Thursday, 23 October 2014

FG WIT University pledge: "Isn't that what you tend to do during an election?"

Today it is important to remember the promises made by both government parties to voters in the South East. This blog has previosuly detailed some of the Labour promise to create a university and above is a 2008 pledge made by FG.

Pat Rabbitte "Isn't that what you tend to do during an election?"

Monday, 26 May 2014

Good riddence Mr Gilmore.

The resignation of Eamon Gilmore shows that failing to deliver on political promises has consequences. The heave against Gilmore was led by politicians from the South East- notably former MEP Phil Prendergast and Ciara Conway TD. Eamon Gilmore garnered votes across the South East by leading on the university issue, but then took no action whilst in office. Perhaps with Gilmore gone, Labour will now focus on delivering what they promised. Labour TDs Ann Phelan, Alan Kelly, Ciara Conway and Brendan Howlin have limited time left to progress the South East's university aspirations before they follow their colleagues out the door. The people of the South East have high hopes that Gilmore's successor delivers what was promised to the region. Farewell Mr. Gilmore.

Monday, 19 May 2014

What is a University Hospital without a University? It's another nail in the South East’s university coffin.


The Government showed its real intentions last week when they gifted Waterford Regional Hospital to UCC. This swift and dramatic action shows the government is capable of radical reorganisation of institutions in short time frames. It also shows that these changes are not favourable to the people and institutions from the South East.
This is action, in contrast to the Government’s“commitment” to examine placing a university in the South East in the programme for Government, Labour and Fine Gael’s detailed promises at the last election, all the technical reports (Hunt, Port, Goodbody, HEA landscapes,  etc...) and the thirty years of campaigning. The UCC takeover of WRH is action, and it is action that shows the Fine Gael/Labour government reneging on its commitments. This new arrangement breaks WRH’s longstanding links to RCSI and WIT; weakening WIT as a research level institution. 
It is interesting how UCC captured the South East’s regional hospital. Minister O’Reilly commissioned UCC’s Professor Higgins to undertake an Independent study of Ireland’s hospital groups and his only conclusion of significance was that the South East group be broken up with WRH going to his school at UCC. All this happened despite 15,000 people from the South East marching through Waterford in late 2012. The report was implemented in less than a year. It is very clear that the political vacuüm in the South East continues to have devastating implications.