Back to college: What is new at third-level?

We examine the developments at the main universities and technological institutions

College is back. After a year of remote learning, students and staff alike are delighted to be back on campus – albeit with some restrictions on capacity in lecture theatres and the number of students who can congregate indoors for club and society events.

For incoming freshers, as well as for current college students, it will mean a chance to physically meet those classmates they’ve only ever met virtually.

While many open days are still set to take online only, all of this bodes well for students who’ll begin college in 2022 or 2023.

Because campuses are always in flux and undergoing change, anyone who left 10 or even five years ago would find them to be very different places today. Here, we take a look at what’s happening in some of the country’s main universities and technological universities.


Dublin City University

FutureTech Construction on the university's new FutureTech building, a 10,000m² facility for science, computing and engineering disciplines, is expected to commence in October. It will accommodate more than 3,000 additional science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) students and also house DCU's entire school of health and human performance.

Autism DCU – since 2018, the world's first autism-friendly university – has launched the first autism-friendly university design guide, in collaboration with Prof Magda Mostafa, a world leader in architectural design and author of the world's first research-based design framework for autism. This will be used to ensure future developments are autism-friendly and, where possible, to retrofit existing buildings. The university has been engaging with staff, students, external organisations and advocacy groups over the past year.

New courses New courses at DCU include the BSc in psychology and disruptive technologies (DC210) which offers students the chance to understand human behaviour alongside new and emerging technologies, the BSc in psychology and maths (DC207), the BEng in sustainable systems and energy which focuses on how materials, energy systems, factories, transport and technology can be developed and deployed in a sustainable way (DC194 – ideal for anyone interested in mechanical engineering with additional skills in sustainability). For a fuller list, see here.

Maynooth University

New student centre A new student centre, slated to open in 2022, will be delivered as two buildings linked with an outdoor covered plaza area. It will provide a new home for the students' union, a hub for clubs and societies, social and performance spaces, a multi-functional venue, a bar, a shop and a range of communal areas.

New courses New courses introduced this year include the three-year BBS in business and global cultures and the four-year BBA in business and global cultures (which includes an internship). These courses include three new streams: business management and global cultures, international business and global cultures, and marketing and global cultures.

College for prisoners The Mountjoy Prison and Maynooth University Partnership, launched in April 2021, will see the university run a series of lectures in Mountjoy to extend the range of academic experiences to people with prison experience.

Munster Technological University

New courses New courses at the new university – a merger of CIT and IT Tralee – include the BSc in global business and pilot studies which allow participants to pursue their flight training as part of their degree. There's also a new BA in home economics and business, a BSc in coaching science and sports pedagogy and a BA in food business innovation.

New capital investment Over the next three years, MTU will investment more than €70 million in new infrastructure, including a learning resource centre at the Cork campus, the Arena, which will complement the recently opened Kerry Sports Academy and be home to a suite of fitness, sports management and health and leisure programmes, and a new STEM building at the Kerry campus which will include an engineering and agri-tech yard.

NUI Galway

Designing Futures programme This has been developed to help students succeed in the world of work and includes personalised student programmes, an IdeasLab which offers students a place to collaborate and innovate on enterprise and ideas, and a dean of students award. The programme creates personalised skills pathways for students and gives them the chance to work with multidisciplinary project teams comprising students and staff from across the universities.

New courses Two new subject choices will be available from 2022 as part of the joint honours arts degree: international development and performance and screen studies. In science, a new pathway on climate physics will be available to students through the science programme and as a new pathway on the existing BSc physics programme.

Access NUI Galway's access office offers pre-university preparatory access and foundation programmes for under-represented groups including students with disabilities, mature students, students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and students from Traveller backgrounds. The university recently broke new ground by appointing its first Traveller education officer, Owen Ward, to lead the teaching and learning of students from the Traveller community. Ward will also lead Mincéirs Misl'd in Education – Empowering Irish Travellers, to transition and build a sense of belonging in higher education and work with stakeholders to provide a detailed, evidence-based understanding of barriers to access, progression and retention in higher education for Irish Travellers.

Trinity College

Glass ceiling You wait hundreds of years for any Irish university to have a female president, and then three come at once. At Trinity College, Prof Linda Doyle recently became the university's 45th provost, while Maynooth's incoming president Prof Eeva Leinonen also breaks new ground. Both follow the University of Limerick's interim president, Prof Kerstin Mey.

Celebrating female scholars Four artists are currently at work in the Long Room of Trinity's historic Old Library creating sculptures of four female scholars: the scientist Rosalind Franklin; the folklorist, dramatist and Abbey Theatre co-founder Augusta Gregory; the mathematician Ada Lovelace; and pioneering womens' rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft.

Scholarships Three Ireland and Trinity have created scholarships for female science, technology, engineering and maths students, valued at €20,000 each.

TU Dublin

New campus A huge new development for TU Dublin, which formed from the merger of DIT, IT Tallaght and IT Blanchardstown, the beautiful new campus at Grangegorman (close to Stoneybatter) is home to many of the university's schools and subjects, with new labs and learning centres. With Covid restrictions lifting, a new 400-seat concert hall, an 80-seat black box theatre and an 80-seat recital hall, will all be accessible to the general public. Three existing buildings have been upgraded and refurbished to offer a new canteen, a one-stop shop for student queries (including admissions, exams and an international office) and a new health centre and counselling services. In the new Lower House, there's a large dining area, students' union, sports and societies facilities and 18 new music rooms for TU Dublin Conservatoire students.

New courses Sustainable transport management (TU814) has been a huge issue affecting the supply of goods in shops and online, and this new course, which includes a work placement, will address the issues and prepare students for work in the industry. There's also a new BSc in sustainable timber technology (TU838) which also includes a work placement.

University College Cork

Calmness The Old College Bar has been transformed into a space of respite and calm for all students, especially those on the autism spectrum: it's currently being featured as an example of autism-friendly design in the prestigious 2021 Venice Biennale of Architecture. The Calm Zone boasts flexible seating, sensory and respite rooms and universal access toilets and lifts.The Boole Courtyard and Hawthorn Garden have also been developed into calm outdoor spaces.

Nurturing Bright Futures A new programme designed for secondary students from transition year to sixth year, designed to help make the transition to third-level. This is a six-module, self-directed programme helping secondary students to choose the course that is right for them and understand more about life at third-level. It includes multimedia content to help students acquire the tools and skills they need in making the transition.

New courses A new BSc in international business and language comes on stream from 2022.

Bystander intervention This is a new series of audio-visual learning materials for all college students, locally and nationally, raising awareness around consent, how to intervene in unsafe situations and how to do your bit to make the community safe for everyone.

University College Dublin

New UCD Village residence Opened in September 2021, phase one consists of more than 900 bedrooms and the new "village centre", including student lounge spaces, a launderette, a breakout study space, a gym, health centre and other retail spaces. The final project will see more than 2,000 new beds by 2023, supplementing an existing 3,200 rooms.

New courses Sustainability (DN240) is a common entry course where, at the end of first year, students choose between sustainability with environmental sciences or sustainability with social sciences, policy and law. For CAO 2022, students will also be able to choose a third option: sustainability with business and economics. The humanities course (DN530) will also see the addition of a fourth option: creative and cultural industries.

University of Limerick

New courses The BSc and MSc in immersive software engineering (LM173) – a three-year course with the option of an extra year for a masters – partners with major employers to provide students with up to 50 per cent of their time carrying out work experience. The new BSc and MSc in artificial intelligence and machine learning is a four-year course that allows students to extend to a fifth year for a masters qualification.

New facilities The highest indoor climbing wall in Ireland.

New supports Four new student faculty officers and an extension of the student life team to offer additional supports to students.