Saturday 25 May 2019

'No rankings game' in UCD global search for 500 staff

Future vision: An artist’s impression of the of the Centre for Creative Design at the proposed new development at UCD, close to the underpass on the N11
Future vision: An artist’s impression of the of the Centre for Creative Design at the proposed new development at UCD, close to the underpass on the N11
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

A novel international recruitment drive by UCD to employ 500 more academic staff is well under way as part of an ambitious five-year development plan at Ireland's largest university.

There has been huge interest for the first 65 positions, which the university hopes to fill by September.

The move to boost academic staff numbers by 500 - a 42pc increase on existing levels - comes hand-in-hand with preparations for a multi-million-euro building programme at Belfield.

After years of Government cuts, which are blamed for a slide down the international rankings by Irish universities, it represents a determined effort by UCD to strengthen its position globally.

UCD President Professor Andrew Deeks said it was "not playing the rankings game; we are concentrating on delivering the best experience to Irish students and international students, and have research of a quality and quantity comparable to peer universities around the world.

"If the systems are sound the rankings should take care of themselves."

UCD unveiled a blueprint for its 'future campus' last year, and Prof Deeks told the Irish Independent it had now applied to the newly established Higher Education Strategic Infrastructure Fund to support the project.

Two key buildings targeted for completion within five years are a landmark €48m Centre for Creative Design, at UCD's N11 entrance, and a Centre for Future Learning. The university is also developing more student accommodation.

UCD recently advertised the first 65 new assistant professor/lecturer positions, known as Ad Astra Fellows, and to date it has received 483 applications, with more expected before next week's deadline.

The adverts sparked considerable interest in the US, UK and elsewhere around the globe, although how that is translating into applications is not yet known. Prof Deeks said it was "a good time to be going to the market for academics, particularly junior academics, given Brexit and the geopolitical situation in the world generally; Ireland is a very attractive place".

The combination of austerity-era cuts, which hit staffing levels badly, and rising enrolments has left Government funding per student at half what it was in 2008.

Higher education student numbers are expected to continue rising. UCD is preparing for an added intake of about 6,600 students - half domestic and half international - over the next decade.

A campaign by the seven universities for a reversal of cuts as well as a sustainable funding model for higher education has not yielded results, for the moment at least.

At UCD, the academic staff-student ratio has fallen to 21:1 and, through the new initiative, it is seeking to restore it to 16:1, the international average for research-intensive universities. In face of the continuing strict limit on the number of posts the Exchequer will fund, UCD will self-finance the new positions.

Prof Deeks said it was "looking to be more entrepreneurial" and as well as internal savings and revenue from international students, funding would come from a new English Language Academy, expected to be fully up and running next year.

UCD has not pre-determined what posts will be filled by the Ad Astra Fellows and appointments will be made on the basis of matching track record and potential with its teaching and research priorities.

Irish Independent

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