South East TU: Unitary approach building on momentum

SETU to have campuses in Waterford, Carlow, Wexford and Wicklow

On May 1st, the South East Technological University (SETU) will open, officially making it the first university to cater for that part of the country.

Amalgamating Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) and IT Carlow, the new entity will be the fifth designated technological university (TU) in the State.

It’s located in an area that is experiencing a period of significant change, including rapid population growth, new patterns of population distribution and a new demographic profile.

SETU will be a multi-campus unitary university with campuses in Waterford, Carlow, Wexford and Wicklow.


The institution’s new website points out that SETU will have in the region 1,800 staff, 20,000 students and 6,000 graduates per year.

On top of the traditional course types that will be available through the institution, there are also 650 researchers, a number that is expected to grow substantially in the years following the merger.

Its annual income will be in excess of €200 million including earned research income of about €30 million, the website added.

In February, Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris appointed Dr Patrick Prendergast, the former provost of Trinity College Dublin, as the first chairperson of the new institution.

He will be joined on the governing body by Jim Bergin, chief executive of Glanbia, and Ruth Beadle, who holds a key leadership role at Sanofi, which has a manufacturing facility in Waterford.

The process for electing the first president of the TU is currently under way.

High-performing institutes

Prof Willie Donnelly, current president of WIT, one of the amalgamating institutions, said there have been two "high performing" institutes of technology in the region, and the merger will build on that momentum.

“In the first instance it’s about building on the performance of the two organisations but in actual fact, what we’re really focusing on is that change in terms of the delivery of education provision in the region,” he said.

“So I suppose, you know, one of the key features of the technological university from a structural perspective is that it’s a multi-campus, unitary organisation. But the philosophy is that it’s a unitary university that delivers the same kind of quality-of-service delivery to students, irrespective of which campus it’s on.”

From a practical perspective, students are likely to study on just one campus in person, as the distance between the campuses is too big to expect learners to get from one to another for different classes.

However, one positive from the Covid-19 pandemic is the recognition of remote learning and blended learning.

“Our whole definition and the whole process of delivering programmes has changed substantially. So, you will see, for instance, in the area of delivery to industry, part-time delivery of programmes, upskilling, a lot of those will probably be delivered online,” he said.

“And in that case, it doesn’t really matter which campus you’re on; the production and delivery of those programmes can be done across multiple campuses.”

One of the biggest benefits of the amalgamation, according to Prof Donnelly, is it will allow the institutions to scale up the delivery of programmes.

“We’re talking about 20,000 students, but we’re also talking about 2,000 members of staff. So, you know, the economy and scale that’s there, that will have an impact on the scale and the quality of the educational provision to the region,” he added.

“So, we see this allowing the new technological university to provide an increased level of attainment to the students in the region.”

Courses will be available across a variety of disciplines on the campuses, covering the traditional faculties that are available in most third-level institutions.

However, part of the TU process is to identify areas in which the university will provide leadership and make it stand out from the others.

“Both institutes have a strong tradition of engagement to help industry to develop its footprint in the southeast. Particularly over the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve seen an increase in the undergraduate programmes in research and innovation that’s strategically aligned to the needs of the region,” he said.

Some of these areas include advanced manufacturing, agriculture, fintech and business and IT, which Prof Donnelly said would be “priority areas” in terms of curriculum development.

Research, too, will be important. The Walton Institute is based in Waterford, and is a leader in Ireland and Europe in the area of information and communication systems science.

“The whole area of smart technology, the application of smart technology to areas like transport, agriculture, health science. That’s a unique research ecosystem that we’ve built here, and particularly the connection between that and the whole area of entrepreneurship and start-ups.”

Remote learning

While the student numbers are already large, that is just the beginning. A key focus will be enhancing the appeal to international students and remote learners, he said.

“I think another area of importance is becoming a university and becoming a university of international reputation, which we want to become. We’re focused on creating a high-quality international teaching, research and professional development network that has the ability to attract students from abroad.”

And while attracting talent inward is one priority, so too is addressing the outward migration of talent from the area.

“Currently, seven out of 10 students leave the region to study elsewhere. It’s important that students have choice; students go to different institutes and universities for different reasons,” he added.

“But at least in terms of the offering, one of the areas of growth will be graduate education, which means even if students leave the region they will be attracted back into the region to take up those offerings.”

A knock-on effect of increasing the educational output in the region is the ability to attract employment. Prof Donnelly said the TU sees itself as a “major catalyst” for attracting high-tech industries into the region.

“Probably 20 years ago we talked about research and innovation having an economic impact, but increasingly now there’s both an economic and social impact,” he said.

“The knowledge economy, the creation of knowledge and the delivery of that knowledge can enhance society. The challenge is to increase our activity in knowledge creation and application so that we can increase the number of high-quality jobs in the region, but also to have an impact on the quality of life in towns and cities up to the application of that knowledge into various areas.”

That connectivity with the community is a uniqueness that, perhaps, traditional universities have not yet developed, he added.

The region in which the university will sit is an important focus of the TU’s mission statement. Overall, the aim is to increase accessibility of education to people of all walks of life, from areas all around the country and the world.

“We want greater access for members of society who wouldn’t normally have access to third-level education: mature students, students from big families who have not previously studied at third level, and so on.”


The two amalgamating institutes were jointly awarded €3 million from Enterprise Ireland to operate the New Frontiers, a development programme for potential entrepreneurs.

1: The programme is intended to train potential entrepreneurs in the skills required to establish and run their own businesses, and is co-located in Enterprise and Research Incubation Centre in Carlow and at the ArcLabs Research and Innovation Centre in Waterford.

2: Carlow is a centre for excellence for sport in Ireland, following extensive investment in the development of state-of-the-art sports facilities, specialised undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and a sports scholarship programme. Some of the sports facilities available on the Carlow campus include full-sized, floodlit sports pitches, a tartan sprint track, sauna-steam rooms and a high-performance strength gym.

3: In Waterford there is a considerable focus on agriculture, with courses in general agriculture, agricultural science, forestry, horticulture and land management. Students of the agriculture programme will spend a considerable portion of their time in Kildalton Agricultural College, and will also spend time on a farm work placement, with many students opting to carry out this placement in New Zealand.

4: Carlow currently has an undergraduate course in brewing and distilling, the first in Ireland, which equips students with the necessary scientific knowledge and instrumentation competencies to work in the brewing and distilling industry. It includes modules in product development, marketing and regulatory affairs, and also incorporates an industry work placement in third year and a research project in fourth year.

5: For those interested in aviation, Carlow has a society called Euroavia. The only Irish branch of the European Association of Aerospace Students, the society represents the institute at conferences, both nationally and internationally and has hosted its own three-day conference.


Total student number: 18,733

Study options: 392 courses

Undergrad/postgrad breakdown: 16,479 undergraduate students and 2,254 postgrads

Full-time/part-time: 7,136/1,441

Campus locations: Waterford, Carlow, Wexford and Wicklow

Fees: €3,000

Bursaries and scholarships: Sports scholarships; academic scholarships; mature student scholarships; 1916; sanctuary scholarships; Sanofi future female leaders scholarships; entrepreneurial scholarship

Accommodation: The Waterford campus has 66 single en-suite rooms, as well as other accommodation close to the campuses. Carlow does not currently have any on-campus accommodation.

Contact details:

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times