Waterford University

University vital for Southeast

The 900 job losses announced in a single week by four different multinationals highlight the significant change taking place in the Irish economy.  High costs and the maze of employment regulation in Ireland are stimulating multinationals to move jobs to more attractive locations.  Labour intensive jobs are most at risk.

The development agencies have been doing a remarkable job in generating replacement jobs.  But attracting manufacturing activities to Ireland is becoming increasingly difficult and now most of the new jobs are in the knowledge-intensive sectors that tend to gravitate towards regions with urban areas of scale and quality.  As Sean Dorgan outlined in his IDA end-of-year statement ‘…competition is from city regions with a population base of over a million people. In Ireland, only Dublin has a population of this size. For this reason, every location in Ireland has to think and act regionally, rather than locally, if it wishes to succeed.’

The Southeast Region has lagged behind all of the other regions during the good times, and is likely to fare worse as the competition for investment intensifies and target investment gravitates towards regions with cities of scale with strong research universities at their core.

Unlike other regions in Ireland the Southeast’s gateway city does not have a university. As a result of the sustained migration of its most talented to study and settle in other regions the Southeast Region is now left with the lowest advanced skills base in the country.

The recent decision of the Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin, to appoint Dr James Port,  the international expert, to consider the case for the creation of a university in the Southeast highlights the concern of government and the wish to explore how best to ensure that the economic and social prospects of the Southeast are reinvigorated.

Highlighting the national concern about Ireland’s skills base Minister for Education & Science, Mary Hanafin, and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment, Micheál Martin, launched ‘Tomorrow’s Skills – Towards a National Skills Strategy’.  Speaking at the launch Minister Martin emphasised that the strategy would combine with the previously-announced Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2013 to create a knowledge-based and innovation-driven economy.  Universities of standing play an important role for Ireland and its regions in delivering these strategies.

Income figures released by the Central Statistics Office last month once again highlight the extent to which the Southeast has fallen behind the rest of the country and the importance of addressing the region’s university deficit.

Disposable income per person in the Southeast is 8.8 per cent below the national average – making it the lowest of any of the eight regions. At just 91.2 per cent of the national average, disposable income for the Southeast stands in contrast to the equivalent figures for regions with universities – Dublin (111.8 per cent) Mideast (98.1 per cent) Midwest (100.3 per cent) Southwest (97.4 per cent) and West (95.1 per cent).

The Southeast with a population of some 460,000 people appears to be the only region of equivalent population in these islands without a university and there is good reason to expect that the Government will now move towards correcting this significant regional deficit.

The two fine historic cities of the Southeast, Waterford and Kilkenny are individually too small to compete effectively in the knowledge-driven economy.  Were they to set their historic rivalries aside, twin and develop a joint plan for a bipolar urban area along the interlinking 29 mile corridor the Southeast would be well on its way.  Collaboration between Waterford and Kilkenny in developing a university with its base in Waterford and a satellite campus in Kilkenny could give a special regional focus for knowledge-driven investment.

The Southeast is the only remaining Irish region with a case that justifies the establishment of a university.  It is not a daunting task: much of the core infrastructure and investment has already been put in place. The Waterford Institute of Technology is operating to the doctorate level and a new campus is being developed. Its sub-degree work could be absorbed by the adjacent Institutes of Technology and the vacated space used to grow the postgraduate and research activity so vital to the future economic and social wellbeing of the Southeast.

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