President of University of Limerick Professor Kerstin Mey has called for urgent Government action on a new funding model for the Irish university sector.
Speaking at the first in-person conferring ceremony to take place at UL for two years, the President said “the importance and resilience of the Higher Education sector has never been more evident”.
In her first conferring address since being appointed President, Professor Mey detailed the “swift and determined” response to the COVID-19 pandemic by UL and the wider sector and said there was an opportunity now to transform tertiary education based on the lessons learned.
Speaking to graduates in the first of five carefully planned ceremonies taking place this week, Professor Mey said: “The Coronavirus pandemic has catalysed a monumental shift to virtual and hybrid learning for the entire, global higher education sector. While this transition has come with challenges to established ways of developing, imparting and assessing knowledge and skills, it has opened up new opportunities to facilitate learning and engagement, to make accessible insights and a diversity of perspectives, for sharing expertise and experience across geographic and institutional boundaries.
“We must seize these opportunities and transform tertiary education now to safeguard the resilience of the sector and its ability to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
“We have welcomed the establishment of the new Technological University of the Shannon Midlands Midwest here in the region and continue to collaborate with our colleagues in TUSMM and Mary Immaculate College. However, there is little point in creating new universities without funding all higher education institutions sufficiently to enable them to act as societal change engines.
“Lack of adequate funding is pushing Irish universities down the international rankings as we struggle to compete with the resources afforded to many of our global university partners.
“While we welcome the clear value signal that the government made with the establishment of the Minister and Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, what we need now are the resources to support the extraordinary talent already in place in Irish universities and to welcome significantly more students every year throughout the current decade as a result of continuous demographic growth and the widening of access to higher education.
“It has always been our policy in UL to enhance access and to put respective pathways in place so that everyone who could go to university does go to university - but what do we do when we simply no longer have the space or the right learning environment to meet the needs of our diversifying student community or the adequate means to advance research?
“Talent is Ireland’s treasure and a key resource for its shared prosperity. And we must nurture diverse talents. Furthering and safeguarding inclusion, diversity and equality through higher education and advanced research are vital for the thriving of our communities.
“The remodelling of university education to support learning throughout the life-span and advanced inquiry has to go hand in glove with a reform of its funding model, enhanced investment into its research infrastructure, capacity and capability building and a governance approach that is built on partnership,” Professor Mey added.
Speaking on a “red letter day for University of Limerick and a day that we mark in celebration of your academic success”, Professor Mey offered the new UL graduates “the warmest of congratulations on completing this hugely important part of your life-long learning journey”.
“You have excelled academically and all while we faced some of the most challenging days in recent history. Your achievements cannot be underestimated as it shows tenacity, determination and strength of character for each and every one of you to be graduating here today.
“Be proud of your accomplishment. I am sure, your family, your friends, your tutors and your peers share in that pride,” she added.
Professor Mey said the graduates “emerge as our latest cohort of ambassadors” from UL.
“You are now armed with an award worthy of your efforts. An award from this institution comes marked with one of the highest graduate employability rates in the country.
“To that end, it is imperative that we continue to hone and support our strong employer relationships as they are vital too for shaping future facing academic programmes that are relevant for students, parents and guardians, and employers alike.
“We will continue to strive for UL to be known as a destination for excellence in education, research and innovation. We will both develop and attract the highest-calibre staff and the best students from all sections of society, both in Ireland and abroad, and ensure that Limerick and the Mid-West are recognised as great places to live, study and work.
“Our commitment to the region is steadfast. We are part of a local and international community –a community that we are committed to through our development plans for the UL City Centre Campus in the heart of Limerick and our ambitions to grow our campus and its environs.
“Our Higher Education Institutes protect the value of academic achievements proudly and fiercely by ensuring that our governance of your educational journey reaches the highest international standards. We stand firm against any dilution of educational standards to ensure that you can use your degree confidently and proudly in the knowledge that it is an unquestionable statement of ability, attainment and academic integrity,” she added.
Around 1,700 students are graduating from the faculties of Education and Health Sciences, Kemmy Business School, Science and Engineering and Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences in five ceremonies taking place this week.
Over 700 students are due to attend the live on-campus ceremonies, which have been carefully planned to minimise risk of possible infection.
Ceremonies are limited to graduands only, who have been requested to take an antigen test on the morning of their graduation, with advice that they should not attend the ceremony if they have any symptoms of COVID-19.
All graduands are required to show their Digital COVID Certificate as proof of full vaccination to gain entry to the University Concert Hall, which has been limited to one-third occupancy to allow for social distancing during the ceremonies.
Graduands and attending staff are also required to wear face coverings at all times.