THE GOVERNMENT has been urged to decide on how it will support the University of Limerick and the third level sector so that it can compete internationally and support local ambitions.
UL president, Dr Des Fitzgerald called on the Government to indicate this on the first day of week-long conferring ceremonies in Plassey on Sunday.
The first ever cohort from the postgraduate diploma in school leadership were among the 230 conferred at UL on Sunday, and make up just a fraction of the 3,400 students set to graduate over the course of six days.
This Monday morning saw hundreds of students from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences conferred at the University Concert Hall.
Kemmy Business School graduates will be conferred on Tuesday, followed by the Faculty of Science and Engineering on Wedbesday, Faculty of Science and Engineering and Interfaculty, and the Faculty of Education and Health Sciences and Interfaculty on Thursday, and the Faculty of Education and Health Sciences and Interfaculty on Friday.
On Sunday, Dr Fitzgerald was joined by Minister of State at the Department of Education, Mary Mitchell O'Connor TD, in welcoming the inaugural graduating programme, describing it as “a ground breaking initiative and it sits comfortably with UL where innovation in education is in our DNA and where we create new models of education and new tools to meet the challenges of a changing world.
“That change will begin with us here in UL. We will need to continue to invest – in physical assets, in our structures, in our personnel and our skills, most importantly we will continue to invest in our management and governance so that we can ensure that we are fit for purpose and that we can maintain the trust and support of our key stakeholders."
Dr Fitzgerald added that change will happen around UL, too.
“How will government decide to support the university sector and UL in the future so that it can continue to support the ambitions of the people in the region and compete internationally in a rapidly changing world?
“What changes will be proposed to the legislation for the university sector and how will they impact on the hugely important principle of autonomy, a principle enshrined in the idea of a university since their establishment over 1,000 years ago – that universities should manage their own affairs so as to protect the principle of intellectual freedom, so that unfettered, they continue to shape and lead change in our country," he said on Sunday.
Dr Fitzgerald warned of the "destructive" nature of populism.
“Science, knowledge and expertise are increasingly mocked while ignorance is lauded and a malevolent concoction of technology, intolerance and populism is increasingly poisoning debate and emboldening darker, destructive forces who thrive by driving wedges between communities and discouraging civility and optimism.
“I believe that in times like these there is a particular onus on those of us involved in education to re-examine what we can do to mitigate these developments and to equip our students to better handle the pressures of the modern world, the distractions of technology, the appeal of ignorance and the growth of intolerance,” Dr Fitzgerald added.
Speaking at the ceremony, Minister Mitchell O’Connor said government spending on education was “very substantial”.
“As a country, we continue to prioritise spending on education and rightly so. We know that a good education is fundamental to building enriching lives,” she explained.
Minister Mitchell O’Connor said of the programme: “With changing technology and changing expectations, school leaders are required to operate in a much more complex environment than ever. I know – I was a teacher and primary school principal before entering politics. I understand the challenges you face as school leaders.
“Success in education is built on the quality of leadership, the building of teams, ingenuity in teaching and support in the community for learning.
“We are lucky in Ireland to have such a dedicated and committed teaching profession, with school leaders of the highest calibre,” she added.