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The college experience – more than just a degree

University is where you will gain knowledge you can use throughout your life. We spoke to six university presidents for their take on what third level has to offer

The President of Maynooth University, Philip Nolan
Provost of Trinity College Patrick Prendergast. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
NUI Galway President, Dr Jim Browne
Professor Brian Norton, President of DIT. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Dublin Business School President Andrew Conlan-Trant
Brian MacCraith, President of DCU. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

President of Dublin City University – Professor Brian MacCraith

The core objective of education today should be to enable students to flourish in the challenging world of the 21st century, in their personal lives, in civic society, and in the workplace. In enabling students to flourish and to realise their full potential, we should seek to stimulate curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity.

At DCU, we prepare our students to flourish in the complex world beyond university, be that in their personal lives, in society or, indeed, in a workplace that is subject to constant flux. Indeed, such is the pace of change and unpredictability of the future that one of the key characteristics that students, and ultimately graduates, must have is adaptability to change. So, in addition to disciplinary knowledge, we equip our students with a set of personal skills that will enable them navigate the particular challenges of the coming decades and to flourish wherever their path takes them. High-profile employers across the world emphasise increasingly the need for today’s young professionals to possess not only deep disciplinary knowledge but also a keen ability to operate effectively across disciplinary, social, and cultural boundaries. DCU graduates are in high demand for their ability to solve problems, lead teams, innovate, build relationships, and advance their organisations.

We challenge our students to think critically not only about their studies but also about the news they consume, their impact on global issues, their care for fellow students, and their contributions to their communities. The learning experience outside the formal learning spaces is a critically important part of student development at DCU. Few students measure their time at university purely by what happens within the four walls of a lecture hall or laboratory. This is a time of transition to adulthood, accompanied by a wealth of educational, personal, social and emotional life-lessons.

President of Maynooth University Philip Nolan

First and foremost, at Maynooth University we challenge you to pursue your individual interests and goals.

We encourage you to follow your passion, to study what interests you, what ignites your curiosity; whatever career you follow, however you contribute to society and your community, it is that passion and that curiosity which will sustain and drive you.

We have in recent years completely reimagined and changed our undergraduate curriculum to give you more flexibility and choice, to explore different subjects, and find the ones that really match your interests and goals.

This gives you the opportunity to plot your own course in life and fulfil your own ambitions.

Ireland has a very strong reputation internationally for the quality of our graduates and our third-level education.

At Maynooth University we look to ensure that our graduates are equipped with the critical thinking and working skills to adapt to the ever-changing job market and emerging needs in our society.

Our graduates are well-rounded and intellectually curious with the knowledge to excel today and the capacity to adapt to new challenges.

One of the most important aspects of Maynooth University is our focus on interdisciplinary research and teaching.

Electives and unique subject combinations encourage undergraduate students to engage with subjects outside of their own, to broaden their perspective by studying across disciplines, and to learn how to think differently and appreciate different viewpoints.

A modern university is a place of universal learning, a place where research and teaching meet.

At Maynooth University our research remains connected with teaching, enabling students to undertake stimulating and challenging intellectual journeys alongside academics who are at the forefront their fields of tackling some of the most pressing problems facing the modern world.

It’s also important to remember that universities are also, crucially, places where students learn from each other.

Maynooth University is a diverse, inclusive and international learning community. The people you encounter do not necessarily think the same way you do, challenging your assumptions about the world, about others, and ultimately about yourself, causing you to look at the world, and your place in it, differently. This, learning to be more open, is often the most profound, meaningful and valuable element of the university experience.

Provost and President of Trinity College Dublin – Patrick Prendergast

Every university has its own strengths. Here at Trinity, we try to do things a little differently.

The quality of the Trinity education combined with our academic values place independence of mind at the heart of learning.

Our inspiring professors are dedicated teachers in their fields, and global leaders in research and scholarship.

The “Trinity Experience” is a chance in a lifetime for personal development in the broadest sense.

Our societies and clubs contribute to the life and fabric of the university and the wider community.

From the renowned debating societies of the Hist and Phil, to the St Vincent de Paul society to athletics to student publications; the list is endless.

We ask our students to engage fully as global citizens, learning from the world around them and from each other.

You will develop critical and adaptable skills to help face current and future challenges. Trinity is committed to supporting our students throughout their studies, for example through the Trinity Tutor system, allowing you to develop both in and beyond the classroom.

As you walk out of Front Gate after your degree, you will have exceptional attributes and skills that will serve you well not only in the workplace but for life itself.

President of NUI Galway – Dr Jim Browne

At NUI Galway we think of ourselves as positioned on the edge of Europe but with a global perspective.

There is something special about this city and this university which has enabled so many world leading individuals and organisations from Druid Theatre company to the President of Ireland.

The impact of our teaching and research is recognised around the world, and we’re the only university in Ireland to enjoy a consistent rise in international rankings in recent years, where we now rank among the top 1 per cent of global universities.

Our focus is on our students and in making sure they develop skills that will stand to them for the rest of their lives. Our students are ambitious and they come to NUI Galway to have access to the very best research-led teaching and academic opportunities.

The time spent in university is a formative period and an important aspect of our role is to inspire them to realise their full potential and become active citizens.

University life at NUI Galway is rich and varied. Students have access to many developmental opportunities, from entrepreneurial supports if they have a business idea, to sports facilities catering for sports at all levels, to our many clubs and societies which cater for a wide range of interests.

Galway is synonymous with the creative arts, and that sense of creativity permeates so many activities across the campus.

We are also home to 4,000 registered student volunteers, providing our students with the opportunity to gain new skills and make new friends while developing critical thinking.

Our courses are developed with life beyond university in mind, so that students gain skills that are important to employers while also learning in an environment that facilitates creativity, collaboration and innovation.

Students here join a community where creative thinking is shared with the world and the student experience should be about inspiring minds to reach their full potential.

University life should prepare you for what comes afterwards.

Employment is important but so is developing critical thinking, active citizenship, social skills and inspiring ambition so that students can embrace opportunities throughout their lives.

President of DIT Professor Brian Norton

At Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) we offer students a unique educational experience that focuses on academic excellence and practical application of knowledge. We have a range of programmes from apprenticeship to Level 10 (PhD) with smaller teaching groups and class sizes that ensure students get involved in group projects and a more focused learning experience.

What really sets DIT apart is our strong links with industry, which complement our focus on the practical application of learning.

Many DIT students complete a work placement as part of their degree which not only gives them the opportunity to be well prepared for the working world upon graduation, but also gives them an edge with employers when applying for jobs.

DIT also has excellent relationships with educational institutions internationally, with many of our students studying overseas for a time, giving them a better understanding of other cultures, while gaining the confidence that living away from home provides.

Of course, college is not just about academic learning and DIT students are encouraged to participate fully in campus life.

DIT has a diverse community of 20,000 students and every one of our vibrant campuses is located in a city-centre location, opening up a world of opportunity and fun for prospective students.

DIT has more than 120 student-led societies and sports clubs with something for everyone, including the arts, fashion, photography and music. Sport is hugely important and DIT students can benefit from excellent facilities at our Kevin Street and DIT Grangegorman campus and choose from a range of sports clubs including, soccer, yoga, basketball, tennis and scuba

Adjusting to college life can sometimes be difficult so DIT works hard to ensure first-year students know about the supports that are available to them, free of charge, from the health centre and counselling service to careers development and financial aid.

We also run a peer mentorship programme where first-years can receive support from more senior students.

For many young people, the first serious obstacles in life may present themselves when they leave the school environment and come to college.

Facing and overcoming these issues will provide a learning experience just as important as their academic qualification.

In all my years as DIT President, this is perhaps the most exciting time to study at DIT as we prepare to move all of our of city-centre locations to a state of the art, purpose built campus at Grangegorman.

In addition, we are currently working with Institute of Technology Blanchardstown (ITB) and Institute of Technology Tallaght (ITT Dublin) to jointly establish a Technological University (TU) for Dublin which will create an incomparable institution of higher learning for the Greater Dublin Region.

Executive Dean at Dublin Business School – Andrew Conlan-Trant

DBS was established in 1975 and with over 9,000 students is the largest independent third-level college in Ireland. The college has established itself as a centre of excellence and is recognised as a high quality provider of third-level education, with a record of distinction in student academic and career achievement. DBS provides a comprehensive range of full-time and part-time undergraduate and postgraduate degree, professional diploma, professional accountancy, English language, executive education programmes and a new online-only offering called DBX.

College life at DBS is a thriving array of clubs, societies and sports and social activities organised by our hugely active student services team. There are supports in place for first year students as they transition from second to third-level education, and the college fosters a warm and welcoming environment for all of its students.

DBS offers students the chance to learn from industry specialists. Many of our lecturers have numerous years of industry experience, meaning that they are bringing real-time examples into the classroom, and our students have said that this aspect of their learning helps them greatly.

Our programmes are fully accredited by QQI, and as an independent college we are in the position of being able to turn around new courses and content very quickly, which gives students the opportunity to study programmes that will lead to employment in areas where there is a skills requirement.

College is about more than academic learning. Apart from college providing young people the change to mature, we offer our students the chance to build real-life skills outside of the classroom.

This could be in the form of taking part in a club or society, getting involved in a charity initiative or helping to organise one of the many events that are hosted here each week. DBS graduates are rounded individuals, who can apply their skill sets in any situation.

We are a close-knit community and I really believe that students blossom when they come to DBS. Our graduates speak warmly of their time with us and are always eager to recommend us a third-level college.

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