25 September, 2015 - Minister O’Sullivan launches University of Limerick’s Strategic Plan 2015-2019, “Broadening Horizons”

Minister O’Sullivan launches University of Limerick’s Strategic Plan 2015 -2019, “Broadening Horizons”

Professor Barry, members of the Governing Authority, staff, students and guests, I am delighted to have been asked to come to UL this morning to officially launch the University’s new Strategic Plan for the period 2015 to 2019, “Broadening Horizons”. I would particularly like to thank Professor Don Barry for his kind invitation.

As we have heard, this impressive new Strategic Plan builds on the significant achievements of UL in recent years, and is designed to allow UL to continue to develop its approach in a way that meets broader national priorities, in particular with reference to the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030.

The National Strategy sets out a comprehensive roadmap for reform of the higher education system. Its objectives are to ensure that the higher education system becomes more performance oriented, more flexible and more responsive while, at the same time, retaining and enhancing its diversity in terms of mission.

The implementation of this ambitious reform agenda has been given life and substance in recent years through our work in partnership with the higher education sector. I know that UL has been a very active partner in that regard, and the new Strategic Plan clearly sets out how UL will continue to contribute to the development of the sector in the years ahead.

I fully appreciate the challenging environment that the higher education sector has had to operate in in recent years. The reality of the economic situation resulted in constraints in all areas of public expenditure, but this was exacerbated in higher education with the considerable increase in student numbers over the period.

The sector has responded well to these challenges and has continued to provide opportunities for increasing numbers of students to undertake a higher education qualification.

Indeed, the System Performance Report published by the HEA in 2014 noted that the system is responsive in developing our people, programmes and disciplines are well aligned to what the market needs, there are high rates of employer satisfaction with graduates entering the workforce, and there is good and improving graduate employment.

In terms of skills development, we now have a labour force that is more highly skilled than any in Europe and we are ranked first for the availability of skilled labour in the world by major competitive indexes. 

However, I also appreciate the vital role that higher education will continue to play in underpinning Ireland’s future economic and social development, and it is essential that a robust funding framework is in place to support the sector in delivering on this role.

For that reason, an Expert Group chaired by Peter Cassells is examining future funding arrangements for higher education. The objective is to identify a range of approaches that, combined, will achieve a sustainable funding base to address the continual expansion of the sector while protecting the quality of education.

The Group is due to report at the end of this year and its report will help inform decisions on future funding for the sector.

Ireland is fortunate to have such a thriving research and innovation system and UL in particular has built its reputation on the strength of its research collaborations and on its focus on research which can be translated into real world applications. 

The Government’s new Strategy for Science Technology and Innovation provides a clear opportunity for Ireland to develop a new whole-of-Government strategy for research and innovation. The formulation of the Strategy is timely as Ireland moves into a new phase of economic growth and societal development. It gives us the chance to advance fresh strategic ideas that will distinguish Ireland globally through its ability to make research work to maximum effect for the country.

We need an internationally competitive and connected research system in which ideas and people thrive, maximising the impact of Ireland’s full research potential and underpinning the talent development of our future.

The connection between research and teaching within our higher education environment is critical.  We must ensure that our graduates are educated by staff in tune with the latest research in their particular field.  Research activity influences the quality and relevance of teaching in our higher education institutions. It ensures that students are learning from staff with an understanding of, and access to, the latest knowledge in their field.  It is the calibre of our graduate’s education that is pivotal to Ireland’s future economic success.

The University of Limerick is already making a significant global contribution to research and development as well as to national R&D priorities.  I understand UL has recently been ranked inside the top 6% of universities worldwide and that has been achieved in a very short 43 years. The sense of ambition to push further and constantly improve its international standing is very evident each time I visit the campus and I have no doubt that the ambitious goals for research which are laid out in this new strategy will be achieved.

The Higher Education Strategy also presents the internationalisation of Irish higher education as a vital aspect of the engagement mission within a global context. The Strategy argues that this enhanced engagement ‘will help institutions become more relevant and responsive, and will also enhance their diversity and distinctiveness’.

It is quite apparent that UL is already doing exceptionally well in this area, and has an excellent reputation for education amongst international students. Having the largest Erasmus Exchange programme in Ireland is a significant achievement.

Ireland’s economic recovery and re-emergence is dependent on our ability to engage globally and the approach set out in this Plan will provide opportunities for students to gain valuable international cultural and educational experience.

UL also places a strong core value not just on its own performance but in engaging and developing strong mutual partnerships with enterprise, both nationally and globally. The relationship between our higher education institutions and enterprise is of vital importance for economic stability and to ensure growth and sustainability for the future. 

UL is renowned for its pioneering of cooperative education, and the high employability of graduates and your renewed commitment, set out in this Plan, to building knowledge alliances between employers and the academic community and to maintaining economic and social links will be key to producing highly sought after skilled, confident and above all employable graduates.

The aspirations laid out in this Plan strongly echo the ambitions for the kind of outward facing higher education system recommended by the National Strategy for Higher Education.  Professor Barry has outlined the map and as Minister for Education and Skills, I confirm the Government’s commitment and support to helping you achieve that vision.

I commend UL on the development of this Strategic Plan. I am fully aware that UL, with its distinctive mission and ethos, continually strives for world-class excellence in everything it does.

I know that the leadership of this university and its strong committed staff, both academic and non-academic, together with its vibrant student body combine to form a significant force for change both within these walls and outwards into wider society.  This plan is for your collective future and working together you will make it work.