By Shona McDonald
Waterford Institute of Technology’s dreams of attaining university status are set to be shattered with the publication of the long-awaited Hunt Report. The delay of its publication has not stopped the revelation of many important elements that it is to contain. Its significance for the future of Irish third-level education cannot be underestimated. It is said to map out a course for third-level education until 2030.
Among the key points to be outlined in the report is the recommendation of increased specialisation by the institutes of technology in this country. Even though the report will call for a form of increased recognition of institutes (renaming them Technological Universities) it is not going to be in support of WIT’s appeal to be recognised as worthy of University status. This ends a four-year appeal, backed by the then transport minister and former student of Waterford, Martin Cullen. He argued that the title “university” would make WIT more appealing for prospective students.
Mary Hanafin, the then minister for education, was not shy in showing her objection to the proposal and to the statements made by Cullen in a clash with Cullen at a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting in February 2008. She argued that WIT’s attainment of university status would have a knock-on effect for the other universities in the country. She also stated that the institute had not suffered in terms of either staff or student number.
That seemingly is the case, with student numbers showing a distinctive rise in popularity of the institute in the past five years, according to the Irish Examiner. Local Labour Party councillor Seamus Ryan was a member of the Governing Body of WIT at the time the proposal for university status was announced. He believes that WIT is completely deserving of this status and he highlights the fact that it is the only gateway city in the country without a university.
He urges WIT to refuse the title of “Technological University” as he believes it is unacceptable and merely a way to try to keep the Governing Body of the college quiet. Students discussing the news on boards.ie had mixed reactions on the news, with many describing it as unfair, but some do suggest that the institute’s poor facilities may be one of the factors inhibiting their goal. Clearly, there are many more pressing, more immediate matters for the current government to deal with first and this issue has been put on the back burner.
Supporters of the campaign point to WIT’s location in the cultural and commercial capital of the southeast; the wide variety of courses it offers, including courses unique to WIT such as Airline Transport Operations, and its introduction of new courses such as Architecture. It remains to be seen how WIT will respond to the publication of the report.