Higher education in Ireland is being transformed dramatically with the creation of five technological universities (TUs) within as many years.
This democratisation of university education is taking place with little public debate at a time when the whole third-level system faces its gravest financial crisis yet.
The new programme for government is just the latest to promise a TU for the south-east, which has the unfortunate habit of falling behind in the race for a university. It's been overtaken before and is about to be leapfrogged again.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. In fact, the whole TU race was started with the expectation that Waterford and Carlow institutes of technology would meet the requirement to merge and then come first past the post.
But that place went to TU Dublin last year arising from the merger of DIT with the Tallaght and Blanchardstown institutes of technology. Next up is the Munster TU arising from a merger of the Cork and Tralee institutes.
Third place will almost certainly go to late entrants, the Limerick and Athlone institutes.
Limerick president Prof Vincent Cunnane and Prof Ciaran O'Cathain from Athlone say they are on course to meet an application target of this October and aim for university designation before the end of the year.
Sligo, Galway and Letterkenny institutes are also in the running and hope to get over the line in the not too distant future.
But the south-east is still lumbering behind.
The long campaign for a university in Waterford goes back to the 1840s when the Queen's University of Ireland was being established. Local politicians made a pitch, but instead constituent colleges were established in Galway, Cork and Belfast.
Eventually, Waterford got a Regional Technical College (RTC) in 1970. It sought an upgrading to institute of technology status, which it achieved in 1997. But every other RTC immediately demanded similar upgrading and succeeded.
The proud capital of the south-east got nowhere with an application for university status in 2006. It was thrown a lifeline in 2011 when the Hunt report on higher education suggested that two or more merged institutes of technology could apply to become TUs.
A process was created to allow this to happen with Waterford and Carlow expected to come first. But personality clashes, differences of opinion, trade-union and other issues prevented progress, despite political support from all parties.
Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne is critical of the delay in finalising a submission for TU status.
"It has been going on far too long, Waterford and Carlow are letting the region down if they cannot get their act together to deliver a university," he says.
However, both institutes now insist that things are moving ahead. An incentive is certainly the €90m fund announced last year for TU transformation. The Higher Education Authority is currently talking to all the institutes about this allocation.
The new universities will need further funding in the future, as will the older ones. The programme for government promises to address this financial crisis but no specifics are given.
The Department of Education and Skills is well aware that we are in what it calls "a return to a straitened economic environment where education will be required to compete with more urgent-seeming priorities".
The warning is contained in an unpublished proposal which argues for greater integration between higher and further education into a more unified tertiary education system (TES).
This is needed for many reasons, it says, including a rapidly expanding future world of work, a future world of learning and a different post-Covid society.
An overarching canopy in the form of a single tertiary system affords the best chance to preserve and maintain the best of the past while also anticipating the new demands of the future.
A unified but diverse system with a range of integrated options can provide more adaptable and flexible responses to changing circumstances, it suggests.
What needs to be avoided is a fragmented system of individual institutions and sectors, often acting in unnecessary competition with each other, it adds.
The controversial paper was circulated to one of the official Covid-19 groups made up of 10 further and higher education organisations and agencies as well as by the department.
Needless to say, it didn't meet with universal approval.
The official minutes report that there were "diametric interpretations and perceptions of the paper and the potential for integration".
There was a "perceived threat to sectors", the minutes added, without identifying which sectors. No prizes for guessing that the universities were not entirely happy with it.
The department agreed that the circumstances are not conducive to focus on the paper right now because of pandemic-related disruption and priorities as well as the "uncertain political space".
But it's clear that the thinking behind the paper has not gone away. Watch this space.
John Walshe served as special adviser to Ruairi Quinn during his term as Education Minister