To date applications have been received to invoke Section 9 of the Universities Act, 1997 from Waterford Institute of Technology, Dublin Institute of Technology and Cork Institute of Technology. Any such application requires a detailed examination in the context not only of the detailed statutory process to which they are subject but also of their wider implications for higher education policy generally. These applications raise significant issues regarding Government policy towards higher education, in particular the existing roles of the Universities and Institutes of Technology which have distinctive missions from each other, provide different levels and types of academic programmes, fulfil different roles in the community and have separate academic and governance structures. The Government wants to build on our strengths and to provide an environment where all our higher education institutions can develop in a way that best serves the country as a whole and the regions where they are based. These issues must be central to consideration of the appropriate next steps in relation to all applications, which I have been examining in conjunction with my Government colleagues.
Waterford IT is already making a significant contribution to the development of the South East region. It has an excellent track record of industry collaboration particularly in areas of applied research and curriculum design. I want to see Waterford IT further develop its strengths in these areas in line with the objectives of the Government's Strategy for Science Technology and Innovation. In this regard one of the key development and investment priorities for the Waterford Gateway in the current National Development Plan is the "investment in the R&D capacity of Waterford Institute of Technology to underline the importance of education to Waterford as a centre of excellence". While Dr Port's report is specifically on the Waterford application, it also provides a useful analysis of the wider context in which any application for designation as a university must be considered. The report provides an overview of the complex issues involved and will contribute to an informed debate, nationally and regionally on the issue and help inform final consideration of the matter. The options presented in the Port Report are being examined carefully by officials of my Department and the Higher Education Authority with a view to developing specific proposals on the appropriate next steps in the context of wider considerations. I intend to present proposals to Government in this regard very shortly.