UCC strategy may hinge on extra €100m from philanthropy

Plans by University College Cork to expand student numbers, reduce dropout rates and improve its world standing could depend on another €100m from philanthropy being raised over the next five years, writes Niall Murray, Education Correspondent.

In a 2017-2022 strategic plan being launched today, UCC president Professor Patrick O’Shea sets his sights on expanding student numbers by nearly 10%, from 21,000 to 23,000 by 2022. This includes a one-third increase to 4,400 in the number of international students, with a proposed €64m investment in student accommodation to improve facilities and add over 600 bed spaces to existing university schemes.

But with uncertainty over any possible political intervention to increase third-level funding, either through increased Government funding or student fees, some targets have been set at the same or at lower levels than current performance at UCC.

The strategic plan does not spell out how much it might cost to help increase the student population, increase the numbers staying on in their courses, or to maintain supports for start-up businesses.

The target for the proportion of students proposed to be admitted through access routes for those from non-traditional higher education backgrounds is not being increased from the current 26% levels. But UCC has some of the highest representation from under-represented groups in Irish colleges, and said it will be more challenging to maintain as enrolments increase.

The annual research income target for the duration of the plan is over €90m per annum, but this is lower than the €96m UCC secured last year.

The 2017-2022 strategy includes plans to support 100 graduate-led companies through the UCC Ignite Programme, which has assisted 50 firms over the last five years. Another 20 investment-ready high-potential spin-out companies are also planned, up from 11 over the last five years.

The plan is to improve retention rates, recording numbers of undergraduates who progress to the second year of their degrees, from 91% to 92%. Current dropout rates at UCC are among the country’s lowest, according to recent Higher Education Authority figures for nearly 30 third-level colleges.

More than €350m in capital spending is planned on a number of projects, including many which are already under construction, such as the €15m student hub in the main campus, and other plans not yet formally approved to proceed. Almost one-third of the developments are earmarked for the Cork University Business School, in which €110m is planned to be invested.

Most capital projects are expected to be funded through sources such as a €100m loan agreement with the European Investment Bank, commercial loans, UCC’s own resources and philanthropy.

An extra €100m is to be targeted from philanthropic sources between now and 2022, to support building and other work. Prof O’Shea told the Irish Examiner when he took office in February that he would like private donors’ contributions used to help fund scholarships for disadvantaged students, rather than expecting young people to take on debts just to go to college.

One option under consideration arising from last year’s Cassells report is a system of loans for students to cover increased college fees.

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