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Launch of the Strategic Plan for Dublin City University at the Mahony Hall, DCU


I am delighted to be in DCU today to launch your new Strategic Plan for the period 2006 to 2008.

This document charts the way forward for Dublin City University.  It sets out the vision and, indeed, the mission, for a university that has been to the forefront of change in Ireland in recent decades.  In fact, it is particularly appropriate that this Plan is being launched at this time. 

Twenty-five years ago, the National Institute for Higher Education as you were then, opened its doors for the first time.  Acknowledging a milestone such as this is important.  It gives one an opportunity to reflect – an opportunity to recognise and to assess how much has changed over that time.  More importantly, however, it also compels one to look forward – to anticipate what is to come and to put in place the supports needed to deal with the change that is an inevitable part of our future development.

As we are all aware, Ireland has experienced unprecedented social and economic change in recent years.  In fact, twenty-five years ago, this country could hardly have been more different to what it is now.  Back then, we might only have had aspirations to lead.  Today, however, we have more than proven that we lead and must continue to lead – especially if we are to remain to the fore in an increasingly globalised and competitive world.

And, Irish universities have a key role to play in this regard. 

Ireland has now moved firmly into the post-industrial age.  Today it is knowledge, innovation and creativity that will be the drivers of our ongoing success.  And, it is within our universities, within the campuses of learning and knowledge, that the disciplines of inquiry, enterprise and understanding will be fostered.  In this way, the capacity and quality of our higher education system has never been more important to our social, cultural and economic development. 

But as acknowledged in this Strategy, universities must not only be facilitators of innovation by others, they must themselves be radical change agents.  To my mind, this challenge is more critical today than ever.  Whilst acknowledging that we have made unprecedented strides in recent years, we cannot afford to become complacent.  Let us not forget that the success we witness today is significantly magnified given the poor base from which we started.  And now that we are edging to the top, we have to strive ever harder for those extra percentage points that will set us apart. 

In this regard, the title of this document – Leadership through Foresight – is particularly important.  It continues a theme that was developed in your last Strategic Plan – Leading Change.  In doing so, you acknowledge the continued need for strong and effective leadership, in particular as our universities take on an ever more critical role helping to shape the future of our society and economy.

Strong leadership is also critical at a time when, worldwide, more demands are being placed on our universities in terms of accountability and the careful investment of public and private funds.  In fact, leadership that anticipates and drives, as opposed to simply reacts to change, is vital going forward.

I am delighted to see that one of the most radical initiatives to come out of your last Strategic Plan – the creation of Academic Themes and Theme Leaders – is to be retained and further developed in this new Plan.  In the European University Association Sectoral Report published in April, your choice of Academic Themes was favourably commented on.  These Themes provide an appropriate framework for interdisciplinary collaboration, strategic external partnerships and for investment in areas identified as key to our future success. 

It is particularly encouraging to note the breadth of the Academic Themes chosen for the years ahead – from business to innovation; from science to discovery and from interculturalism to social development.  These capture the extent of Irish universities’ remit today, not only in terms of driving learning and innovation but also in terms of building better communities and promoting a more coherent society.   

In this regard, I am delighted to see the emphasis in the Plan on broadening access and promoting intercultural awareness in our society.  Our universities cannot afford to be, nor indeed should they be, the realm of the privileged few.  In recent years we have seen that economic success does not automatically translate into greater social equality – nor indeed are both mutually exclusive however.  We have to work on promoting equal opportunity and social inclusion in all areas of our society.

The success of our economy is only worthwhile if it translates into deeper social cohesion and quality of life for all.  That is why, for example, over the period 1996 to 2004, the HEA has allocated some 50% of the €95million in targeted funding for third-level to the area of broadening access.  The Government is very conscious that if a culture of lifelong learning is to be embedded in Ireland, we need to meaningfully promote access into and within higher education. 

What stands out in particular from this Strategic Plan is the recognition that our economy and society cannot and will not ever stand still.  Given this, you have clearly stated that the processes and programmes you have in place will be subject to an ongoing process of review.  Programmes will be actively revised and retired as required.  You will identify areas that need further development and you will benchmark DCU against strategic partners worldwide. 

These are the very types of activities that are at the heart of a leadership model based on foresight.  And the reality is that the strengths from which you can build are considerable.  In recent years for example, the Government has allocated significant funding - €2.5 billion – to developing our research and development capacity.  Of this, some €605 million has been dedicated to the Programme of Research in Third Level Institutions.  DCU has benefited significantly from this funding, developing world-class research specialisms in areas from biotechnology to communications engineering. 

As you will be aware, as part of the review of the university funding mechanism, the HEA is planning to establish a competitive multi-annual strategic innovation fund.  It is proposed that provision be made available to support the development of strategic, long-term planning and processes in third-level institutions.  The Government believes that reform efforts in the sector should be promoted and supported through accelerated prime funding.  These will support the national priorities we have identified for the sector, namely:

-          improving participation and access;

-          improving the quality of teaching and learning;

-          supporting lifelong learning;

-          increasing the numbers of PhD students; and

-          achieving more effective technology transfer.

It is clear from the Strategic Plan being launched today that you are putting in place the framework and supports necessary from which to meet these priorities in the years ahead. 

Before I conclude, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has been involved in the development of this new Plan.  I know that extensive consultation was undertaken with undergraduates, postgraduates, staff and alumni, both here in DCU and in your Linked Colleges – St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra and the Mater Dei Institute. 

I am also delighted to see that external stakeholders were involved, including the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, key IT multinationals, venture capital firms, the SME sector and others.   DCU has long been to the fore in developing strategic partnerships with external stakeholders, particularly in the world of business.  I am delighted to see you working to strengthen and deepen those partnerships in this new Plan.

Over the past twenty-five years, Dublin City University has been to the fore in pioneering new models of teaching, learning and research at third-level.  You have driven an interdisciplinary approach at all levels, you have developed world-class research specialisms and you have broken down many barriers to third-level for those from less advantaged communities. 

Leadership through Foresightprovides the framework by which you can continue to drive and deepen your commitments in these important areas.  I wish you every success with its implementation and I look forward to hearing about its ongoing review.

Thank you.