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Technological Universities

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 8 July 2021

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Ceisteanna (2)

Verona Murphy

Ceist:

2. Deputy Verona Murphy asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the level of funding his Department has secured to support the establishment of a County Wexford campus for the technological university of south east Ireland, TUSEI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37070/21]

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Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

What level of funding has the Minister’s Department secured to support the establishment of a County Wexford campus for the technological university for the south east of Ireland?

I thank the Deputy for the question and for consistently raising with me the need for a Wexford campus as part of the technological university for the south east. It has been a long-term objective of what is currently Institute of Technology, IT, Carlow to secure and develop a suitable, permanent campus site in Wexford. In the broader context of higher education progression and integration, this is an objective that I strongly support. I do not see this as an option or something nice to do; I see it as essential to the functioning of the new technological university for the south east. Should the application made by IT Carlow and Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, to establish a multi-campus TU serving the south east ultimately prove to be successful, which I expect it will, then any new campus of IT Carlow located in Wexford would, in turn, become the campus of the designated TU, which would mean that Wexford would have a university campus. As the Deputy knows, IT Carlow submitted an updated business case earlier this year to the Higher Education Authority, HEA, to purchase a site in Wexford. Following a review of the business case, I am delighted that the HEA board approved the proposal, including the value for money parameters. The proposal has further been approved by me and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, in line with the Technological Higher Education Association, THEA, code of governance, which applies to institutes of technology. As the site acquisition process is ongoing, I cannot answer the direct question on the funding details, because they are commercially sensitive.

I can confirm, however, that a proposal has been approved by me and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and that funding from my Department has been earmarked in line with the value for money considerations outlined in the IT Carlow business case. IT Carlow is engaged in efforts to secure the site and has been liaising with Wexford County Council, which has informed me it is also very supportive of the planned development. IT Carlow has also outlined, at a high level, its plans for a phased campus development in Wexford. However, that planning is still at an early stage. The scope and scale of the infrastructural development remains to be agreed. This will be agreed upon by the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and by my Department once it is submitted. We must secure a site. I have to do it in line with the value for money parameters set down by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform but I want to see every possible route and tool the State has in its toolkit used to make sure this happens.

I thank the Minister. This is a matter that is very close to my heart. I commend the Minister on the progress he has made as Minister responsible for higher education based on moving along the project for the technological university of south-east Ireland, TUSEI. It has been difficult. There have been differences between WIT and IT Carlow but everybody's interventions helped, and all the stakeholders eventually got it together. This week, the international board is meeting WIT and IT Carlow to assess them.

I am aware of the support of Wexford County Council and of Carlow IT's ongoing negotiations on purchasing a site. Bearing in mind the Minister's successful intervention previously, I ask him to organise a stakeholder meeting in this regard so we can move the project along in a timely fashion. The last thing I want is for the TUSEI to be sidelined on establishment if somebody comes in with other ideas. In addition to arranging a stakeholder meeting, the Minister might come to Wexford and visit the current campus.

That is an excellent suggestion. I would be very happy to take the Deputy up on it and arrange for a meeting with Oireachtas Members from Wexford, perhaps the chief executive of Wexford County Council, the president of IT Carlow and their like to meet me. I would be very happy to try to do that this month, at least online. I will take the Deputy up on her offer to visit the existing campus. She makes an important point because there is an existing campus. We want to get it much better facilities but there are students today accessing third level education in Wexford.

We have made a lot of progress together and I acknowledge the support across the political spectrum. The Teachers Union of Ireland ballots have now been passed overwhelmingly in both WIT and IT Carlow. The international panel process is ongoing, as the Deputy says. We are very much on track, subject to the international panel's view, to have a new university for the south east designated and open its doors on 1 January 2022. I, too, want to make sure Wexford is a part of it. Wexford will be a part of it but I want to make sure we can secure the site. This will require many approaches. I will be very happy to work with the Deputy on it.

I thank the Minister for his commitment to engage with the council or IT Carlow, either during the recess or beforehand online, before we all take off on our holidays. I appreciate that greatly.

I am a graduate of the Wexford campus of IT Carlow. Had I not been able to attend night classes at the age of 35, I might never have had a law degree. There are many people like me in the south east, including Wexford.

Wexford has been left behind by the IDA. A part of the community feels this is because a significant cohort of students do not stay in the area to work after completing their education. On behalf of the people of Wexford and the south east, I look forward to having a new TUSEI campus in Wexford in order that we can keep students in the area and in employment after their education and encourage the IDA to bring new facilities. I thank the Minister.

I thank the Deputy. She does not need me to tell her about the success of the Wexford campus because she herself has been a beneficiary. I very much believe this technological university for the south east will be transformational, not just regarding access to education, although that will be the case, but also regarding the foreign direct investment potential the Deputy referred to. I have met the IDA on this. It, too, has signalled to me that a university for the south east could be very important. I encourage the community, including the business community, and all the people of Wexford and the rest of the south east to prepare for this new university and determine how they can harness its full potential. I encourage the local authority to work very closely with IT Carlow on considering the use of all its powers to make sure we, together as a State, secure the new site. I have approved a proposal. I have earmarked funding within my Department. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has approved it, as has the HEA board. We stand ready to do what I have described but it has to be within the parameters set out in terms of value for money.

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