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University of Limerick President calls for clarity on government support for university sector

University of Limerick President Dr Des Fitzgerald with Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, Minister of State at the Department of Education with special responsibility for Higher Education, at the conferring Picture: Sean Curtin/True Media
Mon, 26 Aug 2019

University of Limerick President Dr Des Fitzgerald has called on government to indicate how it will “decide to support the university sector so that it can compete internationally and continue to support the economy”.

Dr Fitzgerald was speaking as over 230 students were conferred at UL, the first ever cohort from the Postgraduate Diploma in School Leadership. It was the start of six days of conferring ceremonies at UL, with over 3,400 students to graduate.

The ceremony took place this Sunday afternoon with Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, Minister of State at the Department of Education with special responsibility for Higher Education, among the guests.

Dr Fitzgerald told the graduating students that the School Leadership programme was “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.

“But change will happen around us as well. 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.

“But perhaps the biggest influence will come from wider societal changes. We are living in extraordinary times. 

“We don’t need to look very far to see how long held views of what constitutes normal institutional and political behaviour are being tested in a way that was unimaginable only a few short years ago.

“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.

The Postgraduate Diploma in School Leadership was established as part of Government’s Action Plan for Education in 2017. It aims to develop leadership capacity in Irish Primary and Post Primary Schools and is accredited by a consortium of universities, led by UL.

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.

Sunday also featured the world premiere performance of new ceremonial music composed for UL’s conferring cermonies, selected after an international competition.

As an tSionainn (for trumpet and organ), written by American composer Michael Merrill, received its world premiere at the first of UL’s Autumn 2019 Conferring Ceremonies, performed by Colm Byrne (trumpet) and Michael Young (organ). The music draws inspiration from the University’s geographical location on the banks of the River Shannon.