Taupo to build high-tech university

The Taupo District Council is building a technology university based on the highly successful University of Limerick (UL) in Ireland.

The Taupo District Council is building a technology university based on the University of Limerick (UL) in Ireland.

"We've been talking with them for over a year now," says economic development manager, Andrew Montgomerie. The UL is a technology-centric centre of learning that focuses on providing skills for high-tech companies.

Twenty-five years ago Limerick had 29% unemployment and was perceived to have little prospect of pulling itself out of recession. Today it has more jobs than people, a 10,000-student university and is regarded as one of the key forces behind Ireland's economic success. The Taupo District Council is keen to repeat that achievement and classes are expected to start in 2002.

"We believe we can set up the same type of model adapted to New Zealand conditions," says Montgomerie.

Limerick got its start as a training institute for staff for high-tech firms attracted by tax incentives and proximity to Europe. Now nearly 100 firms, like Dell and Intel, partner with the university to develop technology. A total of 95% of graduates walk straight into a job when they leave.

That's the model Montgomerie hopes to emulate.

"We've set up the Lake Taupo Development Company and backed it up with the University of Lake Taupo Trading Trust."

Montgomerie says New Zealand is well placed to take advantage of the new market - Asia-Pacific.

"The guys from Limerick tell us it's great - we're English speaking and we're right on the edge of Asia-Pacific. For companies trying to get into the area, we're perfect."

But Taupo isn't alone in trying to follow the Irish example.

"Cairns is trying to do it as well, but we've developed the relationship with Limerick that will see us getting the support we need." Montgomerie says Taupo has also developed a relationship with Bond University in Australia, and he hopes to take advantage of their expertise.

Montgomerie says a major component of any success is the involvement of local iwi.

"If you look at the ITAG report to government on the knowledge economy you'll see the population dynamic is changing. Because of the younger demographics of Maori you'll have more and more Maori involved in the economy in the next 15 or so years. If we don't get Maori involved in 'sunrise industries' we'll be on a more unstable footing because they're going to be a larger part of the workforce."

With that in mind, Montgomerie has been in contact with the paramount chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa

"He has links with all the other tribes and the mana to pull this together in this region and that's exactly what he's done. He's worked with Tainui, with Ngai Tahu and they see it very much as being the focus for their activities."

Local input, combined with relatively cheap land prices in Taupo and its central nature, make it perfect for a learning centre of this type, says Montgomerie.

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