Irish universities have a pivotal role to play in shaping a knowledge society and smart economy that can confidently face the challenges that lie ahead, according to NUI Galway which has recently launched its Strategic Plan 2009 to 2014.
Securing the university’s reputation nationally and internationally, as well as ensuring that all those who come to study and carry out research at NUI Galway can avail of the best education and resources, are just some of the main aims that the new Strategic Plan highlights. “This plan charts the way forward for the university,” explains NUI Galway president Dr James Browne, who added that “it is an ambitious plan that aims to further strengthen our position as one of Ireland’s leading universities and to increase our international profile in priority areas of expertise”.
The Strategic Plan outlines the need for the development of a “fourth-level Ireland”, for universities to take full advantage of investments by the State, while also recognising the growing demand for the upgrading of skills and qualifications. NUI Galway believes that Ireland is incapable of funding seven separate world-class universities, each seeking excellence in every discipline. Therefore the plan suggests that a network of collaborating universities must be created, each of which will develop excellence in appropriate “priority themes”.
The plan contains strategic priorities which are made up of seven themes which are as follows: Teaching, learning, and research; infrastructure and environment; organisation of staff; An Ghaeilge; regional development; communications; and resources.
When it was established as Queen’s College Galway in 1845 there were just 68 students. NUI Galway is now home to almost 17,000 students from over 90 countries. The university’s share of the national market is currently steady with approximately 14 per cent of full-time university enrolments. The Strategic Plan aims to ensure that the university’s success in this regard continues. One notable action to be taken is the expansion of access for “non-traditional students” by offering support to socio-economically disadvantaged students at primary and secondary level in order to increase participation rates by these students up to a target of 7.5 per cent of first-year entrants. The university is also committed to ensuring that various programmes facilitate easy access and support to students with disabilities, as well as adult and part-time learners.
NUI Galway intends to meet the needs of the knowledge and innovation economy by expanding graduate education. The university plan to increase its current output of PhD graduates to 100 per year to 200 per year by 2014. It is believed that this will break down into 120 to 140 per year in science, engineering, and medicine and 70 to 80 per year in humanities and social sciences, including professional doctorates.
Although NUI Galway has undergone many facelifts in recent times, more infrastructure projects are expected because of the growth in student numbers and research activity. According to the Strategic Plan a key objective is to “reduce the barriers to recruitment and expansion” imposed by the lack of space, to ensure “optimal use of exisiting buildings” and to complete new buildings. A revised master plan for the campus which is due to be completed soon will allow planning of individual buildings, facilitate the integrations of the campus with the city and the river, and develop internal pathways for health and recreation. Top infrastructure projects, which is expected to cost in the region of €130 million, include a new engineering building, a human biology building, and three new buildings to support the university’s research efforts. This will also lead to the disposal of a number of premises not suitable for long-term educational use. The university will also attempt to finalise plans for a building to house the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology and other research groups involved in social sciences and related activities. Priority will also be given to development projects to provide appropriate accommodation for expanding programmes of Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge.
Another key feature of the Strategic Plan is NUI Galway’s acknowledgement that although it will continue to strive for maximum level of available income and resources, it faces difficult national and international economic conditions in the years ahead. It is believed that the availability of funding from all sources will be severely restricted. The NUI Galway figures for 2008/2009 show that it generated a small surplus. While income from student fees and research grants continued to grow, State grant income reflected the overall state of the public finances. The 2008/2009 income included student fees - €80 million, State grants - €80 million, research grants - €53 million, and other income - €18 million, totalling €231 million. The 2008/2009 expenditure consisted of pay - €124 million, non-pay - €52 million, and research - €53 million, totalling €229 million. The Strategic Plan 2009 - 2014 says that NUI Galway intends to react to the economic challenges by reducing both pay and non-pay budgets.
“We look forward to working together as a university community to achieve the objectives of our ambitious plan, thus ensuring that NUI Galway continues to contribute in a very real way to the economic, social, and cultural development of the nation and of our hinterland,” says Dr Browne.