University of Limerick and NUI Galway form alliance


A NEW alliance between NUI Galway and the University of Limerick has been described as “a milestone” by the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen.

The universities said the strategic alliance would boost enterprise, foreign direct investment and academic excellence and strengthen research and industry partnerships. The alliance will involve collaboration in areas such as the biomedical device industry, software development and green technologies.

Its Link to Learn student exchange programme will allow students at either university to choose modules from the other institution as part of their programme.

The universities will create a medical academy at Portiuncula and Roscommon hospitals and students on clinical placements will be allowed to rotate between the hospitals.

The alliance also includes a partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US and plans for a research institute are being developed.

A new PhD programme in digital media and film will start in September, drawing on expertise from both universities.

NUI Galway and the University of Limerick are less than 110km (67miles) apart and have a combined student population of more than 27,000. They have almost 4,000 staff.

NUI Galway president Dr James Browne said Irish universities were still small by international standards. “We must work together to create the critical mass necessary to make an impact,” he said.

Dr Browne said this was an important step towards the vision of having all seven universities working together.

University of Limerick president Prof Don Barry said he believed the future of higher education in Ireland would be based on a network of collaborating institutions “each of which develops international excellence in appropriate priority areas”.

Welcoming the initiative, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said increased collaboration among our universities was “vital to upping our game in the intense ongoing global competition to come up with new ideas, new products and new services”.

He said the competition was no longer between universities on the island of Ireland. “It’s about Ireland competing with the world.”

The Irish Federation of University Teachers gave a “guarded and cautious welcome” to the alliance but expressed concern at the lack of consultation with staff and students.

Its general secretary Mike Jennings said the union would be resisting any attempt to close programmes or courses in either institution and provide them exclusively on one campus.

He said there was significant consultation on the alliance with the chambers of commerce and some industrial firms “but none whatever with staff or their representatives.

“Such a negation of collegiality is a poor and worrying first step in what has the potential to be a positive development for third-level education.”

Mr Jennings said the lecturers’ union was seeking clarification on issues related to the alliance and related timetables “in order to ensure that the interest of students and teaching and research standards and facilities are protected and enhanced as a result of any new alliance”.

UCD and Trinity College Dublin last year formed an innovation alliance. It was worked out in secret negotiations between the two Dublin universities and led to concerns that other regional colleges were being marginalised.

Virtually all colleges in the higher-education sector are seeking to forge alliances.