Cabinet agrees to fast-track university for southeast

 

THE GOVERNMENT has decided to “accelerate” the establishment of a technological university in the southeast following the decision of the TalkTalk call centre to close down its facility in Waterford, with the loss of over 500 jobs.

The Cabinet yesterday discussed the decision by the telecommunications company to close down the facility within 30 days, a decision that will affect some 575 employees.

Following the meeting, Minister for Jobs and Enterprise Richard Bruton said Ministers decided to prioritise the promise in the programme for government to give university status to the southeast.

He said it was one part of a three-pronged approach to the crisis. He said IDA Ireland would be actively involved in seeking alternatives for the facility. He also said officials from the Department of Social Protection would travel to Waterford next week to brief and advise workers, as well as exploring training and enterprise possibilities with employees.

Mr Bruton, who will himself visit Waterford to meet workers next Monday, renewed his criticism of the decision by the company to close the facility within 30 days. He said he had had discussions with senior management at the company, and although TalkTalk was publicly abiding by its decision, it was privately considering the Government’s request to adopt a longer timeframe for closure.

“Workers have a responsibility, but employers also have a responsibility. To leave so abruptly is not fair to people,” said Mr Bruton, who was speaking to reporters after the Cabinet meeting.

“The IDA is very actively searching for an alternative. I have repeated the request to management that the company give more time so that we can turn over every stone [in finding an alternative],” he said.

Mr Bruton said Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn indicated he was keen to accelerate his work to found a technological university for the southeast.

Mr Quinn told the Cabinet meeting yesterday he was exploring the establishment of a “multi-campus technological university” in the region. A Government spokeswoman said his examination of the issue would be expedited in the light of recent job losses and brought to an early conclusion. She denied the proposal was a sop to Waterford following the loss of the TalkTalk jobs, and said the Cabinet was “incredibly mindful” of the pain the workers were going through.

Earlier this year, the Hunt report on third-level education ruled out the establishment of any new universities, and ruled out university status for Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) and other institutes of technology.

However, the report held out the prospect of some institutes being redesignated as technological universities, provided strict criteria were met.

Speaking last March in the Dáil, Mr Quinn pointed to the experience of rebranding polytechnics in the UK as universities.