Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has called on all irish universities and institutes of technology to become involved in the government’s National Development Plan. The plan will encourage collaboration between education institutes, businesses, and public bodies over the coming eight years.
The government last week announced a fund of €4 billion to be spent between 2019 and 2027, alongside €195 million which will be provided in Budget 2019. It is expected that proposals for funding will be requested at the beginning of July.
Mitchell O’Connor showed her enthusiasm for the project stating: “All our universities and institutes of technology have wide-ranging programmes, research activities, and expertise across the desired themes. These funds are a once in a generation opportunity for our higher education institutions to innovate projects which will define the country, and future generations.”
The funds are expected to encompass a wide range of issues and activities. The projects will provide €1 billion to tackle rural development, €2 billion to promote urban development, €500 million to further advance climate action, and a final €500 million for the creation of disruptive technologies.
In recognising the broad range of opportunities for higher education institutions, Mitchell O’Connor stated: “The scope for our third level institutions is huge. Science and technology themes range from health and wellbeing to robotics, smart food production to artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing to climate action. In social science fields, projects will be invited to stimulate active tourism in rural communities, revive smaller towns and villages or support entrepreneurship.”
Funds allocated for rural development will focus on strengthening the fabric of rural Ireland with an emphasis on the creation of employment. According to Census 2016, the total unemployment level within rural towns amounted to 11.2% of the population. Higher education institutes have already begun working to tackle these figures. Many institutes of technology based in rural areas have started promoting tourism, entrepreneurship and innovation to enhance the appearance and reputations of these disadvantaged areas.
The Urban Development Fund will focus on Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. It will also aid the development of five regional drivers; Drogheda, Dundalk, Athlone, Letterkenny and Sligo, four of which contain institutes of technology. It is likely that these funds will also greatly tackle unemployment, with an 18.8% unemployment rate recorded in Waterford city in 2016. These projects are likely to focus on collaboration between public bodies and education institutes with the aim of transformational place-based change.
The climate action fund will aid initiatives across a broad range of environmental and energy areas practiced in Ireland. This will be particularly relevant to Trinity, which announced a €60 million development of its new E3 institute in May, focusing on energy, engineering and the environment.
The disruptive technologies fund will attempt to examine proposals that relate to national research area priorities for 2018 – 2023. These must meet the criteria of being truly disruptive in a way that significantly alters the way people live and work. This is a core principle of research in higher education institutions and it is expected that these proposals will be produced through collaboration between companies, higher education institutions, public sector bodies, and research institutions.