Future strategy planning in full force as SETU makes its mark

President Veronica Campbell is confident for the multi-campus university as it celebrates its second anniversary

SETU President, Professor Veronica Campbell, said the new university is already making its mark. Picture: Patrick Browne

When Professor Veronica Campbell started as President of South East Technological University (SETU), she was immediately struck by the opportunities presented by local industry and enterprise. Moving from Dublin with a background in academia at Trinity College Dublin, Campbell was impressed with the abundance of industry, entrepreneurial culture and Startups in Waterford and the south east region.

“Maybe I’ve just had a very Dublin-centric view of the world but when I came down to the south east and I saw the nature of the industries, the startup community, and the number of foreign direct investment (FDI) companies that are here, it was phenomenal,” she said.

Students on campus . Picture: Dylan Vaughan

“These industries have multiple connections to the university whether it’s helping to inform our curriculum, offering students internships, and most importantly, offering our graduates jobs. I think that’s really essential for the south east I know many of the businesses here are crying out for our graduates and translating internship opportunities into job offers which is wonderful.”

Within the university curriculum, there is an emphasis on internships, where students can secure placements across an array of industries, from big Pharma to IT and scientific research.

“Across industry there’s a big emphasis on having work ready graduates. The internship programme we have in place with industry here in Waterford complements that. Given their experience and skillset, our graduates hit the ground running when they get into the workplace,” said Campbell. “I think it really stands to them and certainly I’ve also had that very positive feedback from employers in terms of our graduates settling in and doing very well in their companies.”

SETU has three campuses spanning the south east, in Waterford, Carlow, and Wexford. Waterford is the largest, with a multi-campus structure across five sites each located within a three kilometre radius of the city. Almost 18,000 students attend SETU across all campuses, with some 9,238 students in Waterford.

“Very few people in the south east are located more than an hour away from a one of our university campuses,” she said. “And that’s really important because it’s providing access to higher education for 600,000 people or so who live in this region and who may not want to travel to Cork or Dublin, but instead choose something on their doorstep.

An aerial shot of SETU Cork Road Campus

“That’s a game changer for the region, I mean our campuses are accessible and that is an important factor along with the quality of education that’s provided by SETU, from the apprenticeship space through to a broad range of honours degree programmes to PhD level research. On our Waterford campus we have purpose-built student accommodation that we run ourselves for students who travel to us from all around the country and indeed, further afield.”

Moving to the south east of the country is something Campbell knows all about, having bought a small cottage in rural Wexford after relocating from Dublin for the job.

With a husband and two adult children still in Dublin, she knows how accessible the university is for those who do choose to commute, but also the sheer variety of offerings from its bustling city to rolling hills and unspoiled beaches.

“I’m from the Highlands in Scotland originally, but I moved to Ireland many years ago and first settled in Dublin,” she added. “We used to holiday here in the south east a lot when the children were small, so to be back living here and exploring the region all over again outside of the university is fantastic.

“I’ve lived in cities all my adult life – I studied at Edinburgh University. I love the combination of urban and rural life, and my family get to enjoy this with me.”

Professionally, Campbell’s focus remains firmly on developing the only university in the south east.

On its first anniversary last year, SETU launched its first strategic plan, ‘Connecting for Impact 2023-2028, outlining priorities relating to its allocation of resources and expanding on areas of research and study, building on its ambitions as the ‘knowledge capital of the south east”.

“We’ve called it ‘Connecting for Impact’ for a number of reasons,” explained Campbell. “First of all, we’re a multi-campus university and still in the early stages of a merger, so it’s about connecting our university community across our campuses.”

“It’s also about our connecting with employers and enterprise, social and cultural organisations within the south east, and of course, connecting with our international partners”.

“It was really important to bring all the good ideas that were coming from our university community and our external stakeholders to move us from that early post-merger phase of two institutes of technology into one university and think about what SETU is going to look like in the future. The strategic planning process in itself was a really important exercise and everything that we do now and everything we do in terms of focusing our time and energy links back to that plan.”

Outward migration

The plan also responds to the need for the scaling up of quality education provision, with a focus on increasing the level of educational attainment amongst the population, addressing the outward migration of talent from the region, and increasing the flow of students into Waterford and the surrounding county campuses.

“I think it’s worth pointing out something that is really special about our courses, and that is their connection to industry, whether the health space or the tech space or whatever is relevant to each. We have programmes that cover a range of disciplines from science, engineering, computing, business, humanities, health, hospitality, and agriculture, and in many ways, these are tailored for relevant industry and sectors that are relevant.

“We also have plans to develop more which we deem to have ‘a viable proposition’. We’re looking at new degrees in pharmacy and in veterinary medicine so we’ve just put appointed programme leads in place to develop them. We’re working through bringing them to fruition at the moment and we’re in the mix in terms of being a potential destination for those courses.We’re waiting for the government’s decision on that.

“The university’s proposals for new degree programmes follow on from an expression of interest that was administered by the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

We have a lot of pharmaceutical industries in the south east as well as pharmacy and those operating in in the veterinary space. Large animal veterinary is hugely important for the agrifood sector which is very buoyant in the south east.

“We’ve had huge support from our industry partners as we’ve developed these courses. We know that many Irish people want to study for veterinary medicine and are going overseas to study do this.

“We have the capability to develop a new veterinary medicine course here. That offering would make a huge difference to the south east and serves the national need.”