The opening of the Education and Training Facility for Cavan Institute. Minister Simon Harris (DFHERIS) assisted by Dr Linda Pinkster, Director of Further Education and Training, CMETB; Dr Fiona McGrath, Chief Executive, CMETB; Dr Niall McVeigh, Director, Cavan Institute and Clifford Kelly, chairperson, Cavan Institute Board of Managment, offically open the new Education and Training Facility for Cavan Institute in the company of invited guests. Photo: Adrian Donohoe

‘Big project’ in the pipeline

HARRIS - Next step to Cavan attaining Technical University Status

The local Education and Training Board (ETB) have until the end of the month to finalise a “business case” setting out their demands for a major development of campus facilities at Cavan Institute.

The potential multi-million euro wish list fits with the ETB’s ambition to establish Cavan Institute as one of just 10 Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges of the Future. This, it’s hoped, could eventually lead to Technical University status for Cavan incorporating other FET colleges across the North-East region.

Cavan-Monaghan ETB have until September 30 to submit their proposal to officials at the Department for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. Minister Simon Harris confirmed this on Monday (September 4) when cutting the ribbon at new modular accommodation, or ‘Phase 1’ of an investment at the former Dun Ui Neill barracks on Dublin Road.

“Under the Department’s FET College of the future Major Projects Fund, a huge project has already been approved for the development of a 1,000-pupil facility for Cavan Institute, which is proceeding to the next stage of the assessment process as we speak,” said Minister Harris.

Funding has been earmarked to deliver a new state-of-the-art Education Campus at Cathedral Road, estimated to cost in excess of €40 million, and it is seen as a significant step forward for Cavan Institute and further education in the wider region.

On his fourth visit since taking up the post, each time arriving with further support for CMETB’s future aims and objectives, Minister Harris said: “Let today be the start of a really exciting future for Cavan Institute - expansion, more capacity, modern facilities, the big project coming.”

On just his second official day as Director of Cavan Institute, following the retirement of Ann Marie Lacey in July, Niall McVeigh welcomed Minister Harris and thanked him and his department for their “steadfast support” of FET in the region.

“Today signifies more than just the opening of a building, it embodies the sentiment that education, in all its forms, is the greatest equaliser in society. It opens new doors and ensures no one is left behind,” said Mr McVeigh, echoing the words spoken by Minister Harris at a recent Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) conference on the future of young learners in Ireland.

Minister Harris meanwhile spoke glowingly of the high aspirational bar set within CMETB and at Cavan Institute in delivering new opportunities for learners at all stages of life.

On his tour of the newly opened modular facility, which incorporates a recording studio, performance space, beauty therapy and spa training facilities, computer and science labs, sports therapy and training rooms, and a fully equipped gym, Minister Harris met a host of students, either starting out in third level or about to move on to complete university degrees having started their third level journey in Cavan.

“I very much see this as ‘Phase 1’ of a very significant programme of investment we intend to take. Many of you were in the room not so many months ago when I was delighted to announce we had chosen Cavan Institute to be one of our 10 new FET colleges of the future, one of 10 landmark projects right across the country. Beacons of hope? Absolutely!

“Where we say we’re so proud of what Further Education and Training have done, but no more can it be in inadequate facilities. No more can it be seen as the poor relation. No more can it be seen as a second choice, but actually a premier location from which to access education, and to really try to push back on the narrative that all roads must lead to a big city,” said Minister Harris.

The new 300-pupil modular accommodation has been bought outright by CMETB, thus avoiding a potentially costly tie-in over a lenthy period of time, and allowing them to react fluidly when the times comes to enact their “big project”.

That “proud future”, said Minister Harris, is happening now and is on the horizon also.

“We can’t ask you to wait for the big project. We have to get on with providing modern facilities today. But I am excited about the big project.”

Addressing the work being undertaken by Dr Linda Pinkster, Director of FET CMETB, Minister Harris said the aim now is to get the submissions in from Cavan Institute and the other nine FET colleges of the future “so we can press ‘Go’ and move on with planning applications and design and ultimately construction of all of these projects. But multi-million euro investment in education here in Cavan is absolutely what we want to see and deliver.”

Education and the approach being taken, said Minister Harris, is changing.

“We have to get away from this narrow, sometimes elitist and sometimes snobby idea of what third level education is about. We’ve got to realise it’s not right, and it’s not normal, you only have to look at the OECD report out this week, to put the level of pressure we put on young people.

“I’m so proud of all those who got what they wanted in their CAO. We should be proud. But we can’t just define people by wrote learning and leaving cert points. There could be someone sitting in a classroom today who do better by profession than the person sitting next to them who scored better than them on Peig Sayers. I don’t mean to be flippant about our Leaving Cert, it’s important in and of itself, but it is not the only way.”

That begins by changing the conversation that starts with asking young people “what makes them tick? What difference do they want to make? What are they passionate about?”

Minister Harris said: “That’s the beauty of Cavan Institute, because that’s what you do. You provide such a diversity of courses to so many people, courses that aren’t available in other parts of the country, and are providing opportunity day in and day out. Now we have to take the next step together.”

That step, he states, is “two fold” - the first part being the delivery of “new bright modern facilities”.

However, as Minister Harris attests, that must be followed up by ensuring that students have the necessary skills to progress into a professional capacity thereafter.

With that in mind, he acknowledged the role of former ETB employee, and now head of the newly formed National Tertiary Office, Fiona Maloney, who was also present at the opening. Her role ensures that educational programmes at FET level have guaranteed progression, and Minister Harris said the Kingscourt native, who previously served as Director of FET at ETBI since 2017, was one of a small number of people who had single-handedly “changed third level education in Ireland”.

At least 500 people are set to begin a University degree at an FET institute in Ireland in 2023, and Minister Harris believes this is only the start.

“That’s how we’re going to change education, that’s how we’re going to change Ireland, and that’s how we’re going to move beyond that national obsession with points.”

As they look to roll out even more courses in the years ahead, Minister Harris believes there’s even more opportunity and reason for people who attend Cavan Institute and others like it.

“There’s absolutely no reason in the wide earthly world why we can’t make that happen, and right across the country, and that is so, so exciting,” he said. “Let today be the start of a really exciting future for Cavan Institute. Expansion, more capacity, modern facilities, the big project coming. But let it also be a spark for a conversation on how we can ensure Cavan Institute is at the core of what we are about to undertake in moving beyond that points system, in giving everybody, young or old, no matter what your parents did before you, where you’re from, an opportunity to get the education and skills they need.”

Speaking to the Celt afterwards, Minister Harris once again alluded to the proposed “big project” in the pipeline, and September 30 Major Projects Fund deadline, which the ETB are now endeavouring to meet.

He said the Government’s move to roll out Technological Universities across Ireland was part of an initiative to provide more courses to a regional base.

“I am eager to see one for the North East region,” he said, before adding: “The next step for Cavan Institute is when they submit the business case by September 30, so we should have an update by the end of the year.”

Chair of the ETB, Clifford Kelly spoke, as did Chief Executive of CMETB, Fiona McGrath who said the organisation was delighted to celebrate the official opening of the new Education and Training facility.

She said the “significant investment” reinforces CMETB’s commitment to deliver accessible, high-quality education and training programmes to learners, thereby “empowering our region’s growth and prosperity through education. These new facilities will enrich the educational experience for the learners and staff at Cavan Institute.”