I welcome the Minister to the House. I think it is her first time here since her accession to office and it is only appropriate that I should express publicly my congratulations to her and wish her well in what is certainly an extremely onerous task, but one for which I know she is well suited and has enthusiasm which she will bring to bear on it.
I am pleased that my motion on the Adjournment was allowed here this evening. It is one which is of great concern to people in Waterford and to people in the south east region generally. There is a very strong view, which is borne out by the facts, that we are falling behind in the expansion and development of third level courses in Waterford city and in the south east region in general. It is with a view to highlighting that and expressing the perceived needs in the region that I raise the matter on the Adjournment. I look forward to the comments of the Minister in reply. I think it is necessary at the outset to give some historical backdrop to the position of third level education in Waterford and in the south east.
In the development in establishing the Queens Colleges in the mid 19th century Waterford was ignored and bypassed and no such development of a college took place in Waterford city or in the region. The next major deployment and establishment in educational infrastructure was the establishment of teacher training colleges. Waterford again found itself bypassed and ignored in this development. I should like to put it on record that the De La Salle Brothers maintained a teacher training facility but it was not in the same league, in terms of funding and strength, as Dublin which had St. Patrick's for male students at the time and Carysfort for female students, Sligo had St. Ursula's and Limerick had Mary Immaculate College.
The next major infrastructural development concerned the establishment of RTCs and NIHEs. The third time round Waterford found itself advantaged and it featured because it was given a regional technical college. The next major development was the establishment of a variety of research style institutions. Again Waterford was overlooked. As examples of these institutions I cite the Agricultural Institute which is established in Dublin, the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards in Dublin, the microelectronics centre in Cork and the innovation centre in Limerick and, sadly, Waterford watched itself once more being bypassed. I and the people of Waterford contend — and this is the reason I asked for this motion on the Adjournment — that Waterford city and its natural environment, the south east region, is the natural capital of the region and that we must start looking at this country in terms of decentralisation and regionalisation. Waterford has not got its fair share of higher education resources or information based services. There is a very strong feeling about that in Waterford and one which I want to give voice to here this evening.
I would like to pay tribute to the work being done in Waterford Regional Technical College, to its principal, Mr. Ray Griffin, its staff and its students. This college is unique in many respects when compared with the country's other RTCs. It has the highest enrolment of higher education students. It has the largest proportion of its student body from the national catchment as opposed to a purely local or regional catchment area. Therefore, as an educational institution, it has clearly and manifestly a growing national appeal. The contention is that it is well poised and well geared up to take off as a university style institute and to have an expansion of its degrees, diplomas and certificates.
It got an entitlement to develop degree courses only in 1980 and the growth has been exceptional and, indeed, rapid. The courses that have come on stream with degree status have been eagerly embraced by students from Waterford, the region, and as I have already explained, from outside the region. There are now six degree courses. There is a building management degree course, commercial computer applications degree course, industrial computer applications degree course, public administration degree, information technology degree and a business studies degree. Thankfully, at long last, a Batchelor of Arts in music is starting in the college in September. Quite clearly in seven years there have been seven degree courses put on stream. They have been very well received, indeed, and the courses are very well subscribed to.
What we need, and what I am looking for from the Department and from the Minister, of course, is an aggressive development policy, the sort of policy that will bring industrial growth and, therefore jobs in its wake. I take it that the Government are committed to expansion, growth and development in addition to costs and cost cutting. That is why I want to see that kind of policy clearly annunciated and demonstrated in the facilities which are given to the regions and to Waterford in particular. In a few minutes I will refer to the Bannon report which was commissioned by the chamber of commerce. I see the Minister nodding in a knowing fashion because I attempted to raise this matter on the Adjournment at an earlier stage and obviously she expected me to say something about the Bannon report and, of course, I will.