The issue of protecting the future of the GMIT campus in Mayo has come to the fore in recent weeks, with Deputy Alan Dillon last week raising the issue of the closing of the business department on the Castlebar campus and calling on the Minister for Higher Education to explain such a decision.
The issue was raised again at the October meeting of Mayo County Council this week, where the charge was led by Independent Cllr Mark Duffy, who himself is a graduate of the business school on the campus and a former Students Union president for the Mayo campus.
Speaking at the meeting on the closure of the business department and associated courses at Mayo GMIT, Cllr Duffy said: "To be honest, it is not surprising to me, I studied in the college and got my degree in business from there and served as the Students Union president there for one year and throughout that time in the years that I have since graduated, there has always been an anti-Mayo rhetoric in GMIT and if any councillor wants to go across the road and speak to any lecturer, they will confirm what I am saying and that has been there for the last 20 years."
He went on to say: "That college helped educate so many people out of the recession at the time. We are facing potentially austerity measures - difficult economic challenging times, we need a resource and an opportunity for young people, when people are moving away from studying in cities, we need the opportunity for young people to study locally in the county and it will improve the quality of life for the whole region.
"I would like to get an update first of all from Mayo County Council in relation to the council and GMIT and how we can further support them and whatever issues they are facing. We need to support them from this side, because they are not getting help from the Galway side and that is a fact.
"I would secondly like to propose a special meeting of the council to address and focus on this further, its strategic importance on the county is huge and it is not being supported at Galway level."
There was widespread support for Cllr Duffy throughout the chamber from other councillors. Acting chief executive of Mayo County Council, Peter Duggan, said: "I would share the concerns of the members in relation to GMIT, It is a very important asset to the county and whatever support we can lend it we will.
"I know there was a task force set up a number of years ago looking at the future of the GMIT and my predecessor may have sat on it. I have no problem with writing to the new president along the lines of what the members have said and our support and our huge disappointment at the recent announcement of the closure of the business course in the college.
"It is a vitally important institution to have in the county. We are trying to attract jobs and investment and our ability to say we have a third level institution that can provide the skills that are needed is hugely important and we will support it any way we can."
In response to a query from the Mayo Advertiser on the issues raised by Deputy Dillon and Cllr Duffy, GMIT issued the following response.
"GMIT will be joining with partners in IT Sligo and Letterkenny IT in making a submission to become a Technological University; this will provide enormous opportunities for the stakeholders of the region. GMIT, following engagement with Mayo campus staff over an extended period, is seeking to reorganise itself to be better positioned for this transition.
"GMIT staff across all five campuses have proven themselves to be very agile in adapting to the constraints arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, proving that location is no barrier to effective delivery of services.
"GMIT has already articulated its full commitment to multi-disciplinary provision at its Mayo campus, including business, but also sees exciting opportunities arising from the growing critical mass and expertise on the campus in health care and wellbeing. A more complete description of the reorganisation includes the proposed establishment of a new academic School for GMIT, led from the focused expertise that has been quietly growing at the Mayo campus.
"The challenge for GMIT will be to ensure that all academic Schools in GMIT are enabled to support all our stakeholders in Galway, Mayo and beyond."
GMIT President Dr Orla Flynn stated: “I am very happy to engage with all stakeholders as to the exciting opportunities that arise from what is an ongoing internal reorganisation. It is intended that this reorganisation will enhance our offerings and services, not diminish them.
"What we are trying to do is to enable the full range of expertise across all of GMIT to be harnessed in service of the wider region. This challenge is one that will also be faced by our new Technological University.
"I hope to follow through on the establishment of the new School in the coming months, and this will no doubt see additional opportunities emerging for the Mayo campus."