A transformational development for education within the Midlands region, the opening of a new Technological University (TU ) on the Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT ) campus in September 2021, was afforded strong support from Town Mayor, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, in recent times as he addressed an International Panel charged with virtually assessing the AIT-LIT Consortium application for TU status.
A graduate of AIT, the elected representative and local businessman spoke in a positive tone as he lauded the unified ethos of the AIT-LIT Consortium and the ultimate desire to develop and enhance the third level education experience for students within the Midlands region.
“I am particularly proud and excited about the prospect of Athlone Institute of Technology attaining TU status in the months to come and in that regard I wish to address you, the International Panel, pertaining to a number of relevant topics.
“I am a father of four young children for whom I want the best opportunities possible. I am a businessman in the region and have been an elected public representative for the past 12 years and I am honoured to be the present Town Mayor of Athlone.
“As a stakeholder, I am always very keen that we promote and advance our town, firmly planning ahead and putting the necessary structures in place to make the Midlands region a positive place in which to live, work, educate and conduct business,” Cllr O’Rourke remarked.
The Town Mayor is of the view that attaining TU status prior to the start of the 2021/22 third level academic year will be transformative for the Midlands region.
“To have a TU in the Midlands region will be a ‘game changer’ in many ways.
“Firstly, I think it will certainly attract new investment into the Midlands, both indigenous and foreign direct Investment. This, of course will help, on the one hand to retain jobs, but also to create new employment and skills in the region.
“University status offers greater opportunity all round, particularly for economic growth, but it will also afford students greater choice along with the highest quality of education across all qualification levels, from apprenticeship to doctoral degrees, whilst residing in their own locality and for me that is key.
“This TU will provide the highest possible educational offering to a region that on paper is quite educationally deprived and given that research shows that first generation college students tend to stay local when there is an option to do so, we are facing an open goal, a considerable captive audience right on our doorstep.
“I love the idea that this will be the very first rural university in Ireland with six campus points touching 13 counties in Ireland. I think it makes this proposition really interesting, very unique and is hugely exciting for the region as a whole,” the Town Mayor commented.
Cllr O’Rourke noted the support and immense anticipation amongst the local community as imminent thoughts are afforded towards the AIT-LIT Consortium realisation.
“There is great anticipation within the community about this TU proposition and there should be, because people also see this as a game changing opportunity.
“On a national level, the Irish Government recognise the need for there to be a more balanced approach to the pattern of our development as a country and the need to rebalance the over reliance the capital city and for that reason Athlone and the Midlands region is singled out for special designation as a growth hub that will receive support in terms of infrastructural development, economic growth and population growth.
“So, an education upgrade to TU status fits beautifully with our overall objectives as a country and as a region and furthermore for the vision in mind for Athlone.
“As a region we need to grow, develop and encourage individuals and families to live in Athlone, attract new investment and safeguard the businesses that already populate this area and I see the TU having a huge role in all relevant aspects by developing the skills base of the Midland and Mid-West regions.
“When it comes to running very successful universities, Athlone and the Midlands region has a very strong track record.
“The panel should know that for 600 years Clonmacnoise, a mere short distance from Athlone, was renowned throughout Europe as a major centre of learning. Established by St Ciaran in the sixth century as an educational and religious centre, it flourished right up to the 12th century.
“Let there be no doubt, when it comes to supporting and delivering education to the highest standard we have form, it is part of who we are, it is in our DNA,” the Town Mayor concluded.
The AIT-LIT Consortium has yet to received official TU status designation, this is expected to be achieved in June 2021 or sooner, with the stated objective being the opening of the inaugural cross regional university on September 1, 2021.