Hogan backs South-East University as hub for the food and farming sectors
EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has backed a renewed drive in the campaign for the South East University.
Mr Hogan said the proposed university on multi-campus locations - including Waterford, Carlow and Kilkenny - could help develop information technology as planned.
But it could also give a huge boost to the food industry here, by introducing more smart technology to farming and food production.
The long-running campaign for a fully-fledged university in the south-east of the country has been stalled since the economic slump.
Its potential future is recognised in one ambiguous sentence in the March 2011 Government programme agreed between Fine Gael and the Labour Party.
"We will explore the establishment of a multi-campus Technical University in the South-East," the so-called Statement of Common Purpose states.
The inclusion of the term "multi-campus" speaks to the intense rivalry between Waterford, Carlow and Kilkenny, each of which has arguments for taking a lead role.
"But all of these issues can be overcome and a new institution of practical learning and excellence can be created for the benefit of the entire south-east," Mr Hogan told the Irish Independent.
The EU Agriculture Commissioner said that Ireland was on the cusp of a farming boom as world food markets grow and the EU has abolished milk quotas.
But he said that achieving the required "sustainable intensification" meant a huge role for Information Communications Technology (ICT), which is intended to be the speciality of the South-East University.
"We need to optimise land management, rotational grazing and soil conservation, pest management, nutrient management, crop diversity and water conservation. The time is ripe for ICT to play a transformative role in addressing all these issues," he said.
Mr Hogan said the EU has huge funding available for research in such fields with a total of €3.6bn between now and 2020.
He said agriculture was the "last frontier" for ICT - the last sector where dedicated hardware and software are not driving productivity and growth.
Local campaigners hope the appointment of Professor Willie Donnelly just 10 days ago as president of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) will revive university campaign. A flavour of the difficulties is seen in the failure of merger talks between WIT and its counterpart in Carlow.