What next for Waterford Institute of Technology?

Readers of this blog will know about the problems experienced by Waterford Institute of Technology in its quest to achieve university status. Recently, as was reported here, the Institute decided not to proceed with a merger with Carlow Institute of Technology; a merger of this kind is required by the somewhat bizarre new Irish legislative framework for the awarding of the status of a ‘technological university’. Waterford IT had concluded that the merged institution (if the marriage with Carlow had gone ahead) would actually have reduced its ability to comply with other requirements for university status.

Since then it has been reported that the Irish Minister for Education and Skills, Ms Jan O’Sullivan, is insisting on the merger and indeed has appointed a former Chair of the Higher Education Authority to mediate. But we have also learned that Waterford Institute will not cooperate with this process and will not go ahead with the merger.

Waterford IT is of course right, and the whole framework for ‘technological universities’ is very questionable. Waterford has a good case to be considered for university status under the old rules of the Universities Act 1997, and that is how the case should be evaluated. There is no basis on which any objective observer could conclude that a Waterford Institute merged with Carlow Institute of Technology has a better case for university status than Waterford has on its own. Carlow IT is not a bad institution, and does some interesting work; but overall it still lacks the activities and indeed the staff that would, at this stage, support university status.

It is time for the Irish authorities to recognise that the higher education ‘landscape’ that has been promoted in recent policy documents doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s time to re-think these plans.

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5 Comments on “What next for Waterford Institute of Technology?”

  1. Eugene Gath Says:

    Rumour has it that negotiations were going fine until the matter of a hurling team was raised and Carlow insisted half the players should be theirs🙂

  2. cormac Says:

    I can’t seem to get this point across, Ferdinand!
    WIT is *not* embarked on a “quest to achieve university status”. The city of Waterford, the chamber of commerce and the southeast region have been on a quest for many years for their local IoT to be upgraded to a university for all the usual reasons (the hope of slowing the braindrain from the region and attracting multinationals)….
    The quest is not driven by WIT staff, as should be obvious to all from recent events.


    • Well, Cormac – I hear you, but I don’t think you’re right. WIT’s strategic plans (say, the 2007 plan) stated that a central intention of the Institute was to achieve the status of ‘University of the South-East’.

      When the team led by Mike Shattock visited WIT as part of their (OECD-organised) Irish higher education review they reported that they could not get anyone there to talk to them without prefacing every comment with the ‘imperative’ of university status for the Institute.

      I fully appreciate that there has been a broader movement of local politicians, business leaders and others to get a university for Waterford, but I don’t think it would stand up to scrutiny to suggest that WIT didn’t pursue this goal in its own right. Anyway, it doesn’t matter: I think they were perfectly justified in making the case.

  3. Conor Buckley Says:

    ferdinand: you know what a technological university is. You used to be president of one! NIHE was such an institution and went on to become a successful university as DCU.

    Perhaps Ireland has too many ITs. The creation of the Castlebar campus of what used to be Galway RTC is a car in point of listening to whinging politicians. Is anywhere on irelandvraslly too far away? Perhaps shut Carlow IT and move suitable tertiary activities to Waterford.

    Heresy, I know…


    • No, DCU is not a ‘technological university’ in the sense in which that term is used by the Irish authorities. It is a university with a particular portfolio of courses. But the criteria that make it a university are the same as those that make TCD a university, or Harvard, or anywhere.


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