A UNIVERSITY FOR DUNDALK, A WINDFALL FOR MONAGHAN?

5 November 2021 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The members of the delegation from Dundalk Institute of Technology who came to Monaghan Co Council on Monday to canvass support for their ambition to become a technological university for the north-east and Border region were probably taken back a little by how enthusiastically their aspiration was received and endorsed by the elected members and executive of the local authority.

DkIT President Michael Mulvey and his colleagues would have been confident in the strength of their pitch but perhaps did not expect the sell to be so easy – or for the Monaghan councillors and officials to be as up-to-speed, and perhaps even in some cases ahead of the game, when it came to an appreciation of how such a development in a neighbouring county could be advantageous to people here. They would have expected an open door, but not one so welcomingly ajar. But Co Monaghan and its business and civic leaders have been looking beyond the drumlin hills for some time now for the tools with which to repurpose our economy.

This is still very much a work in progress: the trend away from low-skill, lowpay employment towards job opportunities that would allow the county to entice back a greater share of its young people after they attain graduate status has begun, but there is still much to accomplish. Refashioning the county’s economy is a task that needs recourse to educational and research and development resources beyond our geographical ambit.

Far-sighted companies such as Combilift, Entekra and Monaghan Mushrooms have been matching the extent of their ambition with the extent of their reach for such resources for some time now, and they and other drivers of the economy have been greatly assisted by the flexibility and vision displayed by the Monaghan Institute and other education and training providers in the county.

Monaghan Institute is to be particularly commended for the bespoke training courses it has designed in collaboration with local employers, and for forging fruitful and mutually advantageous partnerships with DkIT and others that have brought graduate level education in areas such as accountancy to the doorsteps of local students.

The local ground is therefore well tilled for the seeds of a regional technological university idea to germinate and grow, and we imagine the notion had been maturing quite nicely in the minds of many of Monday’s listeners before Mr Mulvey opened his lips to speak. In some of Monday’s aside comments from councillors, there was a wistful, wishful trace of envy – not the begrudging sort but of the “what if…” variety. What if Co Monaghan had a technological university or third-level institution here at home? A nice idea, but the demographics don’t match the dream.

And if such dreamy notions flitted briefly through the heads of our elected men and women, they were soon replaced with the realistic realisation that the relative ease of accessibility of Dundalk, not just to Co Monaghan but some of our Northern Ireland neighbours, offered considerable potential to ourselves and the Border region as a whole if it achieved its technological university designation.

That achievement, sooner rather than later, can be taken as a given. And it can also be taken as a given that Mr Mulvey’s “pitch” will have been made, or soon will be made, to local authorities, and other influencers, across the broad breadth of the area from which DkIT draws its current student body. So Monaghan’s councillors and their executive will have to do more than they did on Monday if the county is to reap the full benefit of proximity to the technological university once it is put in place.

Now is the time to push through DkIT’s own open door and build on the established links Monaghan enjoys with the institute in order to be ready to reap maximum benefit from the research and upskilling potential it will put within the county’s reach. Technological university designation will greatly expand DkIT’s resources, but those resources, particularly those for outreach, will still be finite and their acquisition and enjoyment will be the subject of intense competition from with the business and education and training communities in the institution’s ambit. In this context, South Monaghan Fianna Fáil councillor P J O’Hanlon’s appeal on Monday – for future degree courses conferred by DkIT on the Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board area to be divvied out equally between both counties – was pertinent rather than parochial.

But Councillor O’Hanlon could have extended his competitive preoccupations beyond our traditional “noisy neighbour” to include Louth, Meath and North Dublin in the home jurisdiction, and northwards to encompass the Newry, Mourne and Down district. Co Monaghan can enjoy a windfall from DkIT realising its technological university aspirations, but the rewards won’t fall our way like apples from a tree. Discussions should be taking place now between our civic, business, education and community leaders with a view to framing a strategy that would maximise the value to Co Monaghan from what will be a significant regional development on which considerable demands and expectations are already being placed.

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