Fine Gael TD James Bannon has called for the establishment of what would be the first ever university to service the Midlands region.
Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner, Mr. Bannon said that the establishment of a university within the Midlands is necessary in order to assist families whose members he believes are at a financial disadvantage because of the extra “travel and accommodation” costs associated with accessing a “university education” from the Midlands.
“I don’t want to take away in any way from the excellent service that Athlone IT provides to the Midlands, indeed, a university would complement Athlone IT and other excellent educational resources that exist in the Midlands.
“However, the fact remains that in order to access a university education, people from the Midlands must move away from home. This puts families under significant financial pressure,” the Longford-Westmeath TD told the Westmeath Examiner.
“I know of one family that is considering buying a car for their son so as he can travel to Dublin on a daily basis in order to avoid accommodation costs, however this is not a sustainable situation for many students and their families,” the Fine Gael Deputy continued.
As students across the country prepare to return to college in the coming weeks, the Fine Gael politician acknowledged the stress many are under due to third level expenses.
“The costs of supporting a young person through university are considerable enough without adding travel and accommodation to the list,” he explained to the Westmeath publication.
“I am aware that we are still recovering from the economic disaster that occurred under the previous government and that Government spending is still very constrained, however I believe we need to put a university for the Midlands on the agenda. It would provide considerable benefit to people in the Midlands,” Mr.Bannon asserted to the Westmeath Examiner.
USI Vice President for Academic Affairs and Quality Assurance, Jack Leahy, has come out against Mr.Bannon’s new proposal, describing it as a “non-runner”.
“The area simply isn’t sufficiently populated to demand its own university, while the third level system is as under-funded as it is. In order to sufficiently cater for populations in the Midlands region, it would be wiser to focus on the continuing development of Maynooth University and Athlone IT, as well as controlling the rising cost of going to college,” Leahy commented.
“If the Deputy is genuinely serious about improving access to third-level education for his constituents then I would suggest he focus his immediate attention on addressing issues surrounding student accommodation and the maintenance grant. As a member of the Government, this is immediately within his grasp,” the Vice President told Campus.ie.
“It would cost the exchequer considerably less to remove the €3,000 student contribution charge than it would to build and maintain a university of reckonable standard and capacity,” he explained.
Leahy acknowledged the Deputy’s concerns, however, saying, “third-level participation is quite low in some areas in the Midlands, and if that can be explained by the physical location of institutions then I absolutely share the Deputy’s worries.”
Although, he persisted that, “the idea to construct a new university is inconsistent with the contemporary context of under-funded colleges, falling rankings, and the Hunt Report.”
Eimear Ní Dhubhlaine is based in Co. Laois, but lives away from home in Dublin during the academic year to attend St. Patricks College located in Drumcondra.
Commenting on the new proposal, Eimear said, “I actually like moving away from home to go to college. I think it’s a great experience to live by yourself and to have to make your own way in life. Although a university in the Midlands would be a much cheaper option.”
“Universities are huge institutes so it’s no wonder that they’re mainly found in cities. I think it’s a good life experience to move away from home during college, but I know that it doesn’t suit a lot of people. So a university closer to home would be a huge help to these people,” Eimear continued.
Despite calling for the establishment of a university within the Midlands on numerous occasions over the past couple of years, it seems no further progress has ever been made on the matter.
Mr. Bannon criticised those in government back in 2009 for the lack of action on the matter. “We continually hear talk of a knowledge-based economy as being the future for Ireland, but little has been done in practical terms by the government to make this a reality,” he told the Athlone Advertiser in 2009.
Speaking to the Longford Leader a year earlier in 2008, Mr.Bannon expressed a similar sentiment, saying, “students deserve access to a university in the Midlands, rather than having to take on the burden of expensive accommodation in Dublin, Galway or Cork,” adding that “Fine Gael in government would strongly consider such a proposal.”