13 January, 2020 - Minister Mitchell O’Connor chairs NUI Galway seminar on universities driving transformational change

The Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today (13 January 2019) chaired a seminar hosted by NUI Galway to highlight the role of higher education in driving the national agenda on regional development and transformational change. Universities play a pivotal role in achieving national strategic priorities and underpin Ireland’s future economic and social sustainability.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “Galway and the West of Ireland are renowned for their unique qualities and characteristics and are exceptional places to study, live and work in. They are emblematic of the richness of our regions and their higher education institutions are regional powerhouses. It is imperative that we examine how we can deepen and intensify collaboration and partnerships between academia and enterprise in regional clusters and innovation hubs.”

NUI Galway’s new 2020 – 2025 strategy focuses on shared values of respect, excellence, openness and sustainability. The strategy also prioritises a new innovation district incorporating a riverside campus, reflecting increased collaboration between higher education and enterprise and the emphasis on scaled-up higher education-driven research activity to attract global partners, increased international research funding and high calibre researchers. Collaboration internationally between universities and other HEIs is also key to continued academic, research and economic growth and development.

HEIs, including universities, are providing regional and national pipelines of talent with the skills and knowledge to address the challenges of a rapidly evolving work environment and changing lifestyles. Universities are operating as research centres for transformation in dynamic areas such as disruptive technologies, artificial intelligence, climate change and sustainability. NUI Galway has been successful in winning over €66 million in awards under the European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation “Horizon 2020”since 2014. 

The Minister said: “Higher education is pivotal to achieving the Government’s national strategic objectives of a strong, future-proofed economy, balanced across the regions and a fair society. Higher education is the engine behind strong national and regional development, delivering the future skill needs of our economy. Universities such as NUI Galway have a critical role to play in improving the sustainability and resilience of the Irish economy and Irish society.”

The Minister also spoke about the importance of openness, respect and student welfare in higher education: “The student voice within higher education is very important to me and I welcome NUI Galway’s Meitheal approach to partnership which reflects the institution’s emphasis on openness, respect and inclusivity.”


The Minister referenced in this context a number of key student-focused initiatives she has championed in the areas of mental health, consent, gender and drugs, including: 

  • securing additional funding of €2 million to enhance student mental health and wellbeing initiatives
  • the Framework for Consent in HEIs which aims to ensure the creation of a safe,respectful and supportive institutional campus culture
  • a Rapid Response Group to consider the problem of drug use facing students in HEIs
  • the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative to accelerate progress in achieving gender balance at senior academic level in HEIs


The Minister concluded: “It is through access to modern facilities, developing attractive state of the art campuses, the excellence of their teaching and learning provision, as well as the quality of their student welfare that universities and other higher education institutions can make the regional dimension so desirable to all students and lifelong learners. They allow their students of all ages to reach their full potential which not only benefits themselves as individuals but wider society and the economy. Universities such as NUI Galway are driving transformational change and must continue to deliver on their fostering and developing of this potentiality and making it a reality.”


Notes for Editors


Government continues to assign significant funding to higher education. The overall budget for higher education for 2020 is €1.9 billion.

Budget 2020 provided an increase of €150 million for tertiary education including a €60 million spend in 2020 and €300 million over the next five years under the Human Capital Initiative.

New funding of €90 million is being allocated to a new Technological Universities Transformation Fund which will treble current funding on TU development to the benefit of students, staff and a wide range of regional stakeholders. 

As part of ongoing investment through Project Ireland 2040, funding has been approved to help support delivery of up to 14,000 new places for students in HEIs.

Project Ireland 2040 will see Exchequer investment of €2.2 billion in higher education infrastructure over the coming decade.