Monday 19 March 2018

In my opinion: Collaboration is key to international success

It has long been my firm belief that the future of higher education in Ireland will be best served by a network of collaborating institutions, each of which has a distinctive mission and develops international excellence in appropriate priority areas of teaching and research.

The recently announced NUI Galway and UL Strategic Alliance is an important and definite step towards that future.

In the 1970s, when Professor Don Barry and I were undergraduates, there were four relatively small universities in the Republic of Ireland, with perhaps a total of 16,000 students. Now there are seven universities serving almost 100,000 students. Although the sector has grown, we remain small by international standards.

Irish third-level institutions must work together to create the critical mass necessary to make a real impact. Our graduates and our research outputs are critical to our economy and society, and the playing field is an international one. We must co-operate nationally to compete internationally.

Our alliance will make a difference to Ireland in general, and to the West of Ireland in particular. The NUI Galway and UL alliance will support the development of the wider region to encourage indigenous enterprises and foreign direct investment, strengthen research and industry partnerships, and further a shared commitment to academic excellence. We will retain our identities, but we will learn from each other.

Our alliance will make a difference to our industrial and business partners. We will work together in research and technology commercialisation, such as biomedical engineering science, information and communications technology, energy, and applied social sciences.

Taking biomedical engineering as an example, Ireland is the leading location in Europe for the biomedical devices industry, generating over €6bn in exports. Nine of the sector's top 10 companies have significant manufacturing operations here. Some 25,000 people work in the industry, with over 60pc employed in the west and mid-west regions.

The future of these jobs depends on moving up the value chain. NUI Galway and UL will work in partnership with the sector, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland to achieve this.

We are working with Georgia Institute of Technology and the IDA to form a joint venture to lead our efforts in Technology Transfer and translational research.

We will develop a joint Translational Research Institute which will become a unique facility for the commercialisation of research and will significantly enhance the facilities and expertise available to Irish industry.

Our alliance will make a difference to our students, who number almost 28,000. It will allow for the facilitation of student exchange between the universities, through our new Link to Learn scheme. Students will benefit from collaboration among our research institutes, centres and schools, who will produce the graduates, PhDs and research outputs to drive our economic future.

In the area of life-long learning, we will review all components of both universities' programmes in access, foundation and pre-tertiary activity. This review will be conducted to identify synergies and widen the geographical scope of interventions along the Western seaboard, to support those who wish to return to education.

Our alliance will make a difference. We will help to shape the future of our country and our region. Together we can, and will, achieve more.

Irish Independent

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