Tuesday 20 August 2019

Ireland needs top universities if it wants tech investment - Microsoft MD

University College Cork
University College Cork

Sarah McCabe

The decline of Ireland's universities in global rankings could hinder the growth of its technology industry, Microsoft's Irish managing director has said.

"There is a view that Ireland's universities need to be in the top 100 to attract interest and investment from technology companies and spur innovation," said Cathriona Hallahan, who leads the company's 1,200-strong Irish operation.

She continued: "The financial supports available to Ireland's universities and the student-teacher ratio, which is higher in Irish universities than most members of the top 100, should be looked at." Most of Ireland's universities have slipped in international ranking tables in recent years. Trinity College Dublin is the only institution in the QS World University Rankings top 100, but fell seven places in 2015 to 78th internationally.

University College Dublin is in 154th place, while University College Cork is ranked 233rd in the world.

Ms Hallahan said: "Irish universities have had great success in attracting investment and in creating start-ups. This needs to continue. You will not get investment from industry or philanthropists into Irish universities if they are not top-class."

Technology education in schools and universities must be taken seriously, she urged.

Microsoft has teamed up with CoderDojo, the Irish-founded charity which teaches young people around the world how to code. Its staff are being made available across Europe to assist Coderdojo clubs. The CoderDojo movement has been so successful in Ireland that it urgently needs new mentors to both set up new clubs and support existing clubs with waiting lists.

"Every student who wants to learn how to code should be able to," said Hallahan. "Technology will be part of every single job in future, be it healthcare, retail. Coding needs to be viewed as just another language, embedded in the curriculum."

Microsoft in Ireland has had difficulty hiring engineers, Hallahan said, particularly system engineers skilled in Cloud technology.

"This is a new field, but it's growing at an exponential rate and there is a clear need for skilled engineers," said Hallahan.

Ireland is home to a Microsoft European development centre, employing around 450 people and engineering on core Microsoft projects. It was originally set up to localise existing Microsoft products but now works on engineering for the company's core projects.

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