DESPITE 26 years of lobbying the Hunt report looks like it has killed off the dream of a University for the South-East.
In its whole 200 pages the report doesn't make one reference to the establishment of a University for the South East.. The report recommends against the establishment of any new universities but says there may be a case for "facilitating the evolution of some existing institutes following a process of consolidation into a form of university that is different in mission from the existing Irish universities".
But as the plans of this evolution emerge it looks like Kilkenny will be further marginalised with nearby third level institutions looking to expand in other directions. Plans to amalgamate Institutes of Technology which have emerged since the publication of the Hunt report leave Kilkenny completely overlooked.
Institute of Technology Carlow and Waterford Institute of Technology, the two leading third level institutions in the South-East have both decided to look west for partners.
ITC have announced that they will be forming "The Trans-Ireland Higher Education Alliance" along with Limerick Institute of Technology. The goal behind the this initiative is to create a band across the country in counties where ICT and LIT have campuses including Carlow, Clare, Limerick, Tipperary, Wexford and Wicklow. Notably excluding Kilkenny.
Meanwhile Waterford Institute of Technology is looking to establish a technological university in partnership with Cork Institute of Technology. The amalgamation would result in a reduction of costs in relation to administration, services, finance and human resources, but it is uncertain what degree of rationalisation would take place in terms of reducing duplication of courses across campuses.
Kilkenny yet again looks like its going to miss out on the major economic and job opportunities that goes with a dedicated third level facility.
Senator John Paul Phelan (Fine Gael) called for cooperation between the Institutes of Technology to deliver jobs to the region. He said:
"We've campaigned for years now for a University of the South East in the south east. But what seems to be suggested now is a link between Waterford and Cork rather than forging closer working relationships with Carlow. The latter would seem to be the more natural driver of regional regeneration across Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford in particular.
"If Waterford merges with Cork, jobs will be dragged in that direction and surrounding counties such as Kilkenny, Carlow and Wexford – which are already struggling to attract new enterprise – will continue to suffer."
President of Waterford Institute of Technology, Prof Kieran Byrne, said Kilkenny would remain central to WIT's future with one in eight students attending the college coming frm Kilkenny. Prf Byrne dismissed Senator Phelan's concerns that kilkenny would be overlooked if a technical university was formed between CIT and WIT he said:
"I don't think that you can sustain that argument really and I'd like to have a further discussion with Senator Phelan in relation to that and into the detail of it. I think that we have a very, very strong tradition of higher education here in Waterford."