Yesterday came the long awaited publication of the Dr. Port report with respect to WIT’s request for re-designation to university status for the Southeast region of Ireland. You can download the report here. My first reading of the report was somewhat downhearted as I eagerly desired to see passages of highly supportive text and great positive slant. It was only when I read the report for the second time that I realised that this indeed was a hugely supportive thesis, that diminished many of the strong arguments that WIT could have faced in their campaign to be re-designated.
Many of the arguments that WIT faced included: adverse effect on the other Institutes of Technology (IoT), setting a precedent for other IoT’s to seek re-designation in a similar way to WIT to the detriment of the IT sector, the ability to operate at university level, and so on. Dr. Port actually identified that WIT was in a prime position to be upgraded and that the institute was indeed performing at a level worthy of university status. Further more Dr. Port identified that the need for a university in the Southeast of Ireland was very real and that the closest such facility to WIT was UCC in Cork, over 100km away. Other IoT’s in the region would also benefit from the upgrade as they would receive additional IoT students while WIT/University would attract/sustain a greater number of university students to and from the region. Another great thing about Dr. Port’s report was that it identified several ways in which a re-designation could happen while avoiding mission drift. Mission drift is where an IoT is re-designated and moves away from its core focus of vocational and technical courses. Dr. Port has identified that the governing board of WIT and the overall organisation itself is an exemplary case that should be given due attention. In brief, Dr. Port firmly put many arguments to rest and placed the ball firmly back into the court of the government.
So, why was I initially dismayed when I read the report? Well it took me a while to figure it out actually but the reasons are now glaringly obvious. Dr. Port conducted his report, and it would appear that he was forced to do so, within the context of the OECD report of 2004 and also within the context of current government policy. The OECD report of 2004 was not favourable towards WIT’s re-designation prospects and government policy is currently focussed on a centralisation strategy. Within this context it was nearly impossible for Dr. Port to deliver a glowingly and outwardly positive view of the re-designation. Each time in the report when Dr. Port is gravitating towards a highly positive remark he has to stop and say that it is either not within the context of the OECD report or that it would have to be decided by government policy. Additionally, in Dr. Port’s conclusions he explicitly says that whatever happens, the government should definitely not maintain the status quo and do nothing. Nor should it remove the avenue for Section 9 applications for re-designation as this would be to the detriment of the higher education sector in the entire of Ireland, giving no reason for an IoT to ever aspire to be better than it is. What this does mean now is that the decision, whenever it arrives, is a completely political one and can be influenced by an outpouring of support for the re-designation. The people of the Southeast must unite and show their support and make this a huge political issue whereby failure to deliver is not an option for the government. The Southeast of Ireland has dramatically under-performed economically in comparison to other regions that are served well by universities and it is the largest region in the entire of Ireland that is not served by a university. Make your voice heard now, make sure the government knows that the Southeast needs an university, make sure that you make a difference, for the betterment of your life, the lives of your children and the development of your region into a vibrant, thriving and successful sector within Ireland. Only you can make it happen!