Wednesday, 13 October 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
157. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Education and Science when he will upgrade Waterford Institute of Technology to the status of university; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20177/99]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): The steering committee on the future development of higher education was asked to advise on the future development of the higher education sector and to examine, within the overall national context, the needs for higher education on a regional basis and the appropriateness of the current institutional provision by region to meet these needs.
In July 1996, the Government approved in principle the recommendations in the report of the steering committee on the future development of higher education as a benchmark for future planning in the sector subject to regular review. As a response to the higher education needs of the south-east region, the report recommended an increase in student places in what was then the Regional Technical College, Waterford, an increase in degree level awards and a change of title to the regional institute of technology.
In 1997, Waterford Regional Technical College was redesignated as the Waterford Institute of Technology and arrangements were put in place to carry through the process leading to the delegation to the institute of authority to make awards within a national qualification framework.  This process was initiated through the appointment of a review team chaired by Professor Dervilla Donnelly. The results of this academic review published on 5 March 1999 recommended that WIT become one of the first institutes to have the delegated power to make awards in respect of all existing NCEA-validated national certificate and diploma courses. The review group also recommended that, after an appropriate period of time following the delegation of award-making authority in respect of certificate and diploma courses, a review should take place concerning the further delegation in respect of primary degree courses.
The Qualifications (Education and Training) Act, 1999, which was recently passed, enables me to formally implement this recommendation for delegated authority. The arrangements for the implementation of the Act, which will enable the delegation to take place, will be completed as soon as possible. The Act also enables further delegation of degree certification to the institute and the way forward to achieving this was outlined clearly in both the work of the review group itself and the self-evaluation work of the institute.
I previously stated that my objective is to develop a framework for the structured development of institutions in the technological sector to address changing local and national demands,  while ensuring the maintenance of the complementary third level systems of university and technological education. I further stated that the diversity of institutions and the separate missions of the two broad sectors will be maintained so as to ensure maximum flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of students and to the wide variety of social and economic requirements.
WIT will continue to play a major and growing role in Irish higher education. The Government has played its role in ensuring that it has the facilities and resources to meet this challenge through a major investment package which has been put in place.
With regard to an increase in degree level provision in the south-east region, my Department has in recent years sanctioned an increased degree provision in WIT in the areas of computing, financial services, management and administration, business studies, hospitality management electronic engineering and manufacturing systems engineering aimed at meeting the identified higher education needs of the south-east region.
The Deputy will appreciate that recommendations for changes on status are subject to a legislative framework with an objective academic procedure at its core. It would clearly be inappropriate for the Government to disregard this process.
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