Being different is part of the University of Limerick identity and DNA

Dr Des Fitzgerald, President University of Limerick

Reporter:

Dr Des Fitzgerald, President University of Limerick

Being different is part of  the University of Limerick identity and DNA

Dr Des Fitzgerald and UL Student Life president Jack Scanlan

Over the last 50 years, University of Limerick has set itself apart to do things differently. We were once told that Limerick could not have a university, but a determined cohort of visionaries rallied so that their voices would be heard.

Their vision and faith, while looking at a derelict building dotted on a small holding of 70 acres outside the city, did not falter. They saw beyond what was in front of them and did what many thought they couldn’t. From just over 100 students to a 360-acre campus filled with a community of more than 17,500. That took courage and belief.

Last week, we stood in the forgotten, rundown site of the former Dunnes Stores building the heart of the city and imagined to look beyond what was in front of us and see a vision of the future. A future filled with the energy of a cornerstone site bustling with students and staff of UL in the heart of Limerick city. Our vision for tomorrow is at the heart of our new five-year strategy and beyond into the next half century for UL.

This plan will lead to an investment that will run into the hundreds of millions, create new jobs and bring us in to the heart of Limerick, industry and the community.

UL will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary since the foundation of the institution in 1972 as NIHE. With such a milestone ahead, UL will now look to the next period of its development and growth through a longer lens and indeed give a dynamic vision to the future.

The founders of this institution were trailblazers of their time, visionaries who set the foundations for this institution to build on. We must now continue that work and make UL the university that the region deserves.

The strategic plan, UL@50, is as much about the milestone of 50 years of university education at Plassey as it is about UL reaching 2050 and the goals that are set along the way.

To achieve our goals UL will continue to build on its global reach for impactful research, on academic excellence for an international audience, and on solving difficult challenges that have real-world impacts.

Each of our strategic goals will be met with the students at our focus as they are at the core of what we do. Together with the student body, our location and our strengthening presence in the region will add to our ability to excel, to thrive in critical thinking and solve problems.

We are helping shape the next wave of leaders in our community, in politics and in business life. Our graduates will be job-makers, not just job-takers. We will help them experience a diverse but inclusive culture with sporting and creative excellence — and when they leave UL, they will look back on it with pride.

In essence, we will add an additional 4,000 students to our campus community over the next five years, rising to 8,000 in the years that follow as the landmark building at the UL city campus comes to life. In turn, an estimated additional €30 million will be annually spent within the local economy and thus create new opportunities for students, staff and the city and region as a whole.

Community projects, partnerships and programmes will aid our civic engagement as UL looks to build its multifaceted national and international reputation.

At its core, our new strategy is ambitious but firm in its direction of where we want to bring this university to. It will build and enhance our status as a civic university and further contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of an increasingly vibrant Limerick city and Mid-West region. UL, in turn, will become the university of choice in Ireland for national and international students. We need to take advantage of being a young university. Our youth allows us to be innovative and think outside the box. Being different is part of the UL identity and DNA.

An initial multi-million euro phase of investment in capital infrastructure to complement the €200m spent in the last five years will be made possible through UL’s strategic vision and a number of sources of funding will be used to realise this. A new campus development plan will also shape our Plassey and Castletroy footprint while an addition of over 300 new staff to support those new student numbers will also be met.

Our new strategy was developed after engaging with staff, our Governing Authority, our Foundation, which has embraced major elements of the plan, and our wider community.

Engaging with many voices can bring diverse views, but that is the process and a worthwhile one as our audience told us that we must continue growing and improving our academic reputation in Ireland and internationally.

We must also continue educating outstanding UL graduates and creating active citizens, as this was found to be hugely important.

Our staff will be further supported in achieving their career goals as UL will continue to be a truly ‘civic university’, actively engaged with our city and our region to support the economy. Furthermore, UL will continue to focus on inclusion and diversity, embracing and promoting an open and welcoming campus for all while the institution grows to be a more dynamic UL that continually challenges ambitions and looks for new opportunities.

We developed four core themes now embedded in the strategic plan.

 Transforming learning

 Digital transformation

 City and culture

 Health and wellbeing

Those four themes are underpinned in the five strategic goals of this plan.

Goal 1: Transforming education

We want to enhance the experience for our students while continuing to build on our academic reputation.

To achieve this goal, we will facilitate and promote more flexible learning that is centered around student needs and supported by technology. We will place entrepreneurship at the heart of all we do and will work together to create inter-disciplinary programmes that prepare students for their future working lives.

In doing so we will create an environment that will enable our students to develop as independent, creative and critical thinkers, in turn becoming engaged citizens, profes- sionals and potential future leaders.

Goal 2: Research excellence

The international reputation of a university is inextricably linked with the calibre and impact of its research – UL is no different. So, we’ll continue to build on our research capability and culture and we must broaden our research programmes, building on our traditional areas of excellence. To do that we will need to be more agile, responding to global challenges through enhanced international partnerships and collaborations.

Goal 3: Internationalisation

A key finding in developing our new strategy was that the experience for our local and international students and staff would improve. On an international perspective, to improve our global rankings, we must diversify our community and grow our global reach. To do this we will attract high-calibre students and staff, through the delivery of our education and research programmes. We will continue to expand our engagement with EU programmes, particularly Horizon Europe, the European Universities Initiative, the European Research Council, and Marie Sklodowska-Curie training.

The priorities in achieving inter- nationalisation will be to become a more diverse community — students and staff — with a target of 20% of our students being non-EU and 35% being given an international experience.

Goal 4: City and region

Limerick and the Mid-West region define who we are. We are committed to our community engagement, contributing to the social and economic development of the region and, in particular, providing equal opportunities for access to university education and training.

We will work with the other third-level colleges in the region to further develop learning opportunities for people across the Mid-West and will contribute to support the development of the city and region.

We will ensure that geography does not limit our thinking or our ambition and will play our role in informing and influencing regional and national discussions through the contribution and expertise of our people. Under the fourth goal, the UL priorities will focus on stemming the brain drain from the region whereby 50% of students entering university from school go elsewhere. We will continue to promote access because every child who could go to university should be given that opportunity.

Goal 5: Operating model

We will build an operating model that ensures success for all of us at UL. The model will determine how we structure ourselves, allocate responsibilities, incentivise and support or students and staff. We will implement our Equality and Human Rights Strategy and Gender Action Plan and will continue our commitment to the Athena SWAN accreditation. We will deliver a staff development strategy and leadership development programme.

With the right support, this plan, underpinned by these five goals, will deliver significant benefits to the entire UL community of staff and students as well as to the region.

Some of the key objectives include making UL in Castletroy more integrated and more liveable for students by concentrating development around the main buildings, for research, and education, for staff and students, facilities and accommodation.

But we will go beyond Plassey and indeed beyond Limerick. In the years to come we will expand our reach, beginning with the Digital District at Parkpoint and the UL city campus before expanding to Dublin and abroad.

UL has made enormous strides in few short decades since NIHE. In the next 50 years, we must ensure that we build our academic reputation and our identity as a national and international university of choice.

All our stakeholders have stated clearly that they want UL to be distinctive, dynamic, student focused, academically strong, creative, entrepreneurial and innovative – indeed, all the characteristics that the university has fostered and is known for.

UL will become a community of scholars with a global reputation for excellence, creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and engagement and now we have developed the roadmap to achieve it.