A €100 million loan to the University of Limerick will help “transform education in the west of Ireland and significantly improve student life in Limerick for future generations”, according to Jonathan Taylor, vice-president of the European Investment Bank.
The loan agreement was signed by Mr Taylor, UL president Don Barry and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan this Monday and is part of an overall capital development plan that will see UL invest €224 million across three sites in Plassey, University Hospital Limerick and the city centre over the next five years. The plan will create 700 jobs in the construction phase and result in 300 full-time positions being created.
The EIB loan, meanwhile, represents about 10% of the total value of projects approved for Ireland by the bank this year. It will see student accommodation and a campus developed in the city centre as well as a research and training facility for medical and nursing students in Dooradoyle.
More than two thirds of the money will be spent on new academic buildings, student facilities and sports infrastructure north and south of the river at the main UL campus.
Prof Barry said this would include “the new training facility for the Munster Rugby team next to the UL Arena”, a 25m diving pool and six floodlit grass pitches.
A new student centre being developed with the students union would include meeting rooms, a concert space and even a cinema. The Glucksman Library will also double in size under the plan.
Two projects that will add to UL’s reputation as a centre of research are also included - the Bernal Building and the second phase of the Materials and Surface Science Institute.
Signing the loan agreement, Prof Barry said, was evidence that the European Investment Bank saw that “UL and indeed the city of Limerick represent a solid investment”.
“It allows us to begin work on our €224 million capital development plan which will see us build a total of 12 infrastructural developments across our campus and in Limerick city over the next five years. By supporting the university and believing in our plan, the EIB is allowing us the scope to grow now and spread our repayments over a manageable period of time.”
The term of the loan is 20 years although Mr Taylor said he could not disclose the interest rate.
However, UL would be getting “the full benefit of the cheap borrowing” the EIB could get as a public bank, Mr Taylor said.
The remainder of the capital for the €224 million plan, Prof Barry said, would come “through a combination of philanthropic donations, state grants, our own UL funding and revenue generated from commercial activities that will take place in many of these (new) developments”.
“I’d say we need to raise more than 50% of the remainder of that. But the great thing about the loan facility from the European Investment Bank is that it is over a long period of time so it gives our philanthropic donors and the state time to assist in the funding of these projects. But we don’t have to run to government and say give us €100 million tomorrow. We can spread it and that helps with cashflow big time,” Prof Barry said.
Mr Taylor said the first tranche of loan funding could be made available to the university “in the coming days” which would allow construction work to commence this side of Christmas.
UL has a tradition of getting on with its ambitions and Prof Barry said that site clearance work on both the Bernal Building and the Materials and Surface Science Institute had already begun.
Mr Taylor spoke of his confidence that UL’s plans would “both transform education in the west of Ireland and significantly improve student life in Limerick for future generations”.
“This is part of our continued support for university investment in Ireland” and was something that had come “after many months of preparation and evaluation by colleagues of proposals across Europe”.
Central to the whole process was John Moran, secretary general of the Department of Finance who was appointed to the board of the EIB last year.
Mr Moran, who is a native of Mungret, recalled it was “30 years ago when I used to sneak in here from UCD to use the great library facilities here at UL, when there really was just this building (Plassey House) and part of the quad”.
UL’s transformation since then had been a wonder to behold and Mr Moran had been glad to play his part in securing an investment that would see that continue.
“I’m delighted in first year as director of EIB that we have been able to approve such loans for education in Ireland. We have set up a high level working group in the department to work with colleagues in the EIB and there has been €1.2 billion of signatures and approvals this year - a significant improvement,” Mr Moran said.
Minister Noonan said that the EIB had been given extra capital to lend across Europe and “we wanted to make sure Ireland gets its fair share”.
“We need to start rebuilding the infrastructure of our country again across all fronts and we need long-term inexpensive funding to do so.”
A long-term investment in education, such as at UL, was an obvious choice to benefit from such a loan.
“We are all proud of the university. We hope that it will continue to advance and we are confident that it will because the planning is careful and systematic and stretches over a long period of time,” the minister said.