Education institutes sign research pact


A MAJOR agreement to boost research and innovation in the Border, Midland and Western (BMW) region has been signed in Athlone by the heads of seven higher education institutions.

This is the first time the third-level sector has come together to adopt a BMW-wide approach to research and innovation.

The institutes of technology in Athlone, Dundalk, Galway-Mayo, Letterkenny and Sligo, together with NUI Galway and St Angela’s College, Sligo, will combine their strengths under the auspices of Líonra, the higher education network in the region.

The initiative follows the move by UCD and Trinity to merge their research programmes earlier this year. Several other universities are in discussions on research and other links.

The Government has been exerting pressure on third-level colleges to build centres of excellence in various regions and to collaborate. The Higher Education Authority is also demanding cost-cutting by colleges through the pooling of resources.

The BMW joint strategy will see collaboration taking place across a number of core areas, including biomedical science and engineering; environment, marine and energy; software development and applications; health services research; social entrepreneurship; socio-economic sciences and humanities and food and agriculture.

The Líonra agreement envisages research policy reflecting the socio-economic needs of the region and responding to the expectations of the local economy.

It also calls for collaboration between the academic partners and industry which will strengthen the ability of the sector to attract funding.

The convenor of Líonra, Prof Ciarán Ó Catháin, said the agreement would enable the BMW region to play a complete role within Ireland’s knowledge economy. “This collaborative agreement multiplies the research strengths of our individual institutions for the betterment of the region.

“We are putting a comprehensive commercialisation strategy in place which will enable the innovation and research ideas developed through this partnership to reach the marketplace.

“This is critical to the creation of a knowledge economy and to the restoration of sustainable, rewarding employment in the region,” claimed Prof Ó Catháin.

According to Dr Jim Browne, president of NUI Galway, “this agreement creates the framework and rationale for collaboration. It also meets the future demands of Ireland’s higher education system by offering a model of co-ordinated coherence, as called for recently by Tom Boland, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority”.

He added: “The development of research clusters in strategic areas resonates with the requirements of key industries for this country.

“The medical device industry, for example, is concentrated in the BMW region with companies such as Elan, Medtronic and Boston Scientific. This research agreement has identified collaboration in the biomedical science and engineering domain as a thematic priority, which mirrors the industrial strength of the region.”