TUSE Waterford

TUSE Waterford

Since 2018, €56 million has been spent on Technical University projects throughout Ireland. Of that, the Technical University of the South East (TUSE) has only received €8.1 million, or 14% of the total budget. Much less than funds allocated to either Dublin, Cork or Galway, all of which are regions with existing universities.

These figures don’t capture the historic underinvestment in the Waterford campus that has prevailed over the years. I hope that now that we have a dedicated Minister and a dedicated Department that we in this government can reverse the inequalities of the past and of previous governments as we deliver a first class TUSE for Waterford

I spoke about this in the Dáil. You can see the full speech here:

Minister Harris, I want to in the first instance welcome the formation of this new government department. I think it was warranted and I hope we’ll see consequent and substantial improvements in our provision and learning outcomes.

I welcome in particular the emphasis this minister has placed on the training and skills facet of his department and the minister’s commitment to prioritise Lifelong Learning, one of the aspects of education that we don’t do well in this country.

But I want to use my time here today to address the critical issue of the Technical University of the Southeast, a project so important in terms of balanced regional development that it is specifically referenced twice within the Programme for Government.

I think the minister would acknowledge that the TU model was conceived in response to the need and demand for a university to serve the needs of the 500,000 people that live in the southeast region and the fact that Waterford is the only city in the country without a university status third level institution.

Minister, I am old enough to remember when the IT structure was proposed as an answer to the same problem a generation ago. What followed was a rebadging exercise where all RTCs were upgraded with no nett benefit to Waterford or the Southeast.

It’s much to the credit of WIT that they have consistently remained first among equals, and have managed to compete with Universities despite the inequalities of funding opportunities. I would praise as well WIT’s place within our community, both geographically and socially. Many of the students who graduate from WIT are the first in their families to attain a Third Level Qualification – this is true of my own family – and I know as a matter of fact the great pride both staff and management place in that.

But minister, we are not competing on a level playing pitch. 

As a region, the Southeast accounts for 8.9% of the population, but only 5% of the Higher Education income.

Of our young people who enter Higher Education, 59% leave the region in order to do so – that’s in or around 11,000 students per annum. This equates to a huge wealth transfer out of the Southeast, but far more damaging is the loss of our young people, and we see a pronounced demographics donut in the region, characterised by a missing generation of 19-45 year olds. Our young people are going away, and in many cases staying away.

And even in the TU model, a model designed to deliver a University to the Southeast, we see the disparity continue. Since 2018, €56 million has been spent on all TU processes. Minister, of that, the TUSE has only received €8.1 million, or 14%, a lesser share than that allocated to either Dublin, Cork or Galway, all of which are regions with existing universities. And these figures themselves fail to capture historic underinvestment in the Waterford campus, and particularly in terms of built infrastructure, that lags far behind the Higher Ed. capital investment in other regions.

Minister, President-Elect Joe Biden has been quoted as saying, ’Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.’ For generations we have been told in Waterford how valued we should be as the economic driver for the Southeast region. The historic URDF funding allocation last week for our North Quays was a welcome signal that this government might finally be putting our money where our mouth is, but this needs to be followed through to the adequate funding of the TUSE project. If we are to grow our undergraduate and postgraduate capacity in the region, if we are to expand and improve the range of courses available, our region and the young people of our region should accept no less.

Marc Ó Cathasaigh

Dáil Éireann, November 19, 2020.

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