Bright sparks to make Dublin summit a 'Davos for students'


When TCD student Georgie Smithwick first enrolled in college, she quickly discovered the course she had applied for was not as described. “I ended up switching courses and transferring to TCD. I realised a student who had done the course would have been able to tell me the ins and outs of it better than a prospectus, so went about setting up an online review site.”

The (now) 23-year-old founded Coursehub, which went live in 2011, and has since attracted more than 15,000 student reviews of colleges and CAO courses. Smithwick, who is one of Ireland’s youngest female entrepreneurs, will address some of the world’s brightest students in Dublin this week, as part of the UA Summit, which takes place from November 7th-9th.

Dubbed a “Davos for students”, the conference will serve as a three-day pop-up incubation centre for some of the world’s most exceptional young minds, according to UA programme director Louise Hodgson. “From hands-on workshops and talks with inspiring young achievers, entrepreneurs and academics to networking events with top graduate recruiters, the UA Summit is going to be one of the most exciting student-focused events in Europe designed to fast-track the careers of the high-potential attendees.”

As part of the three days of events, UA will also host the Forum on Higher Education, which will bring together leaders, pioneers and academics from the four corners of the globe to discuss disruptive education and the impact of technology on traditional approaches to learning.

Conference speakers include Conrad Wolfram, who was recently named as one of Britain’s 50 New Radicals for his disruptive theories on maths education; Start-up Britain founder Rajeeb Dey, who at 26 is the World Economic Forum’s youngest ever young global leader; and author Kyra Maya Phillips who recently researched the similarities between Google and gangsters. Her book The Misfit Economy, due to be published by Simon Schuster in 2014, looks at what the black market can teach the public about innovation.

Also speaking at the UA Summit will be Hannes Klöpper, one half of the founding team behind iversity, a cloud-based higher education course management platform.

The beta version of the platform, which allows lecturers to organise courses, research projects and conferences, attracted around 12,500 users from more than 80 higher education institutions. Launched last year, the official version has 55,000 users in Germany, India and the US, among other countries.

The platform also provides students with tools for interaction and collaboration, something that the founders felt was lacking during their own studies, according to Klöpper. Iversity also created a “social reading” feature, which allows users annotate, highlight and have conversations in the margins of PDF documents.

The 28-year-old – who co-authored a book The University in the 21st century - Teaching the New Enlightenment at the Dawn of the Digital Age, which was published two weeks ago – said iversity intended to develop its platform to provide online courses. “I am very interested in the impact of technology on education. At iversity we are watching very closely what is happening in the US with regard to the recent surge in online courses. People are starting to embrace them more and thousands of people are signing up.

“Online courses allow tens of thousands of people to learn the same subject together. In a classroom, often the bigger the class, the less you get out of it, and the less attention you get from professors. The same doesn’t go for online courses as people help each other out more.”

The company’s goal is to build a digital infrastructure to improve the learning and teaching experience by allowing students and faculty to easily collaborate with each other, carry out research, create events, discuss course materials and share files.

Kane Sarhan, a 24 -year-old co-founder of Enstitute, will address students at the conference on Making your own adventure: something from nothing.

Dividing his college life between class and a part-time job, Sarhan discovered the skills he learned in the lecture hall rarely applied in the boardroom. He also believed the university model wasn’t working for many young graduates, who were finding themselves unemployed or working in low-paid jobs. Thus the idea for Enstitute, an apprentice programme designed to immerse aspiring professionals in the New York start-up scene was born.

The two-year apprenticeship programme provides young adults with an alternative to college, as the skills necessary to survive the current business climate cannot always be learned in the classroom, says Sarhan. The first class of fellows, whittled down from more than 500 applicants, began the course in September.

The UA Summit will culminate with the Undergraduate Awards, which recognise the world’s best student research projects.

More than 2,890 submissions were received from students across Europe and North America, for which 180 judges spent two months assessing.

The battle of the brains will draw to a close on November 9th when the overall winner in each academic category will be awarded by President Michael D Higgins at the Undergraduate Awards ceremony.

Undergraduate Awards

* The brainchild of Paddy Cosgrave (Web Summit, F.ounders) and Oisín Hanrahan (HandyBook), the Undergraduate Awards recognise outstanding undergraduate research by the world’s top students

* Award categories cover the A-Z of academic disciplines, representing leading-edge undergraduate course work

* Final-year students from across the world were invited to submit projects completed as part of their coursework that received a high 2.1 or higher grade

* Thirty-nine students, including 21 Irish, have been selected as winners from nearly 3,000 global applications

* Winning entrants include students from TCD, McGill University, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, University of Cambridge, St Andrew’s University and University of Edinburgh who bagged wins with research topics as diverse as “gene silencing” to “contagion in the euro zone sovereign debt crisis”

* The prizegiving for winners in each category will take place this Friday