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University of Limerick president announces plans to step down amid coronavirus concerns

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University of Limerick president Des Fitzgerald has announced his resignation

University of Limerick president Des Fitzgerald has announced his resignation

University of Limerick president Des Fitzgerald has announced his resignation

University of Limerick President Dr Des Fitzgerald has announced his shock resignation, linking it to his ability to lead the university in the context of Covid-19.

Dr Fitzgerald said the virus “would directly impact my ability to serve the university and limit my ability to fully engage once we get our community back onto the campus.”

He warned that the Covid-19 crisis would shape the future of the university sector for the next decade and beyond and would force universities across the world to re-examine both their business and academic models.

“Significant changes and investment will be required to support the sector” said Dr Fitzgerald, adding that it was vital the new Government “stepped up to the plate to protect the University sector in Ireland as it would play a crucial role in the economy’s recovery”.

But his announcement came only hours after Independent.ie and the Irish Independent revealed details of correspondence from the Department of Education revealing that there were no Government plans to provide a broad support package for the sector.

Department officials have signalled support for extreme cases, where cash flow difficulties may be serious enough to threaten a college’s viability.

But otherwise, universities, institutes of technology and other publicly-funded colleges have been told to look to their own reserves, or any other financial mechanism available to them, to cushion Covid’s financial fall-out.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) recently sought a “significant government intervention in the form of a financial support package” to support the sector “through this crisis”.

In a submission to the Department, the HEA, put the extent of Covid’s “immense financial consequences” to higher education, at an estimated €508m for 2020 and 2021.

Dr Fitzgerald delivered his resignation in letter to UL Chancellor Mary Harney, who said she regretted his decision. His resignation will take effect from later this year, and a process to appoint a replacement will get underway.

Dr Fitzgerald said that he was confident that with the right support now, the future for UL was bright and said its very existence was “testimony to the can-do attitude of the people of the mid-West region who overcame enormous obstacles to secure its development".

The UL President said that he had been privileged to lead the university and he believed that during his term, he and his colleagues had made important progress on key issues.

He included in that list of achievements successfully taking the first steps in establishing a campus in the city, developing healthcare programmes, growing research output and increasing the university’s engagement in education globally, agreement on an ambitious strategic plan for the university.

He said in the context of Covid-19, the strategic plan would require some further review, but it remained an important vision of "what UL can become in the years ahead”.

Dr. Fitzgerald was appointed after a period of controversy at UL and he said he believe they had “important progress on tackling many of the controversial issues which predated my appointment and which were set out in the Thorn Report, the Deloitte Internal Audit and the report of the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG).

“I am glad that during my period in office most of the issues detailed in the above reports have been dealt with and their recommendations implemented.”

He was appointed as President of UL in late 2016 and commenced his term of office in early 2017.

Prior to his appointment, Dr Fitzgerald had held leadership positions in a number of leading academic institutions and was Vice President for Research and Vice President for Health Affairs at UCD.

Online Editors