When the Public Accounts Committee recently called Frank Ryan, the chief executive of Enterprise Ireland, I took the opportunity to ask him about its position on university-led indigenous job creation.
I began by noting that Mr Brendan Murphy, the president of Cork Institute of Technology, said last summer that creating a vibrant technological university sector is the most important significant recommendation in the national strategy for higher education to 2030.
Mr Murphy highlighted how higher education can make a major contribution to the development of indigenous enterprise by pointing to CIT's association with Enterprise Ireland in operating the Genesis programme, which has resulted in 200 start-up companies, over €100 million in investment and the creation of almost 2,500 jobs.
The HEA and the Department of Education and Skills are adjudicating on applications for the creation of more technological universities, including the joint application for just such a designation by Waterford and Carlow ITs. "If that is where Mr. Ryan thinks the emphasis should be, what role does Enterprise Ireland, with the Department and the HEA, play to deliver on that?" I wondered, saying "the creation of these technological universities is important when it results in such figures."
Mr Ryan said in reply: "We have a long history of working directly with universities and the institutes of technology which we see as an engine of growth in their regions. It is not Enterprise Ireland's responsibility to direct Government policy. We are required to implement it."
HEA report separate from Waterford-Carlow ITs bid
It should be made it crystal clear that proposals by the Higher Education Authority to merge third-level colleges will have no bearing whatsoever on Waterford’s application for technological university status.
The Irish Independent and Irish Times both reported on the HEA’s plans to reduce the number of third-level colleges funded by the State from 39 (in which 170,000 students are currently enrolled) to 24.
The objective is to eliminate waste, increase efficiencies, and ultimately save money – not surprising given that identical courses are being offered by colleges in close proximity to each other at present.
However, it's important to stress that this new amalgamation blueprint is entirely separate from the joint application being made by Waterford and Carlow Institutes of Technology for a technological university of the south-east.
Reacting to the press reports, the Chief Executive of the HEA, Tom Boland, assured me that the application submitted for technological university status for this region is unaffected by these proposals. (He also said later on Wednesday that there will be no institutes closed, just reconfigured.)
Waterford is regarded as one of the best ITs in the country, with massive infrastructural development having taken place at the Cork Road site, and also the West Campus at Carriganore, over the past decade. This should ensure it’s to the fore in a streamlined third-level sector.