‘UL can help boost growth’ in region

University of Limerick (UL) needs to improve its world ranking if it the region is to realise its potential economically, its incoming president has said.

In his first address as president-elect of UL, Desmond Fitzgerald told the May business lunch of Limerick Civic Trust a key objective of the university was attracting international students because investment in the region would follow, adding that it had to also think of itself as a national, rather than a regional, university.

“UL is undoubtedly a regional powerhouse, having a big impact on the economy,” said Prof Fitzgerald. “In many ways its considered a regional university but it needs to have an ambition that it will be able to attract students from all over the country. It can do that.”

The 14,000-student university is in the top 600 of the Times Higher Education world rankings, which had to improve, he said.

He added: “A key objective is to attract more international students, which will be difficult. Many students are supported by governments overseas who will look at the rankings of a university before they’ll ever support a student. International students will have a big impact on the region. Many will come and stay here. Many parents who send students here will invest in Limerick.”

Prof Fitzgerald said UL had done “extraordinarily well” in relation to research but it had to build on that.

“There are major programmes being developed in biomedical, manufacturing, technology-enhanced intelligence and software development,” he said. “All of these will feed into the reputation of the university in the coming years,” he said.

By focusing on enhancing its national standing, industry would follow, he said.

“I think it is important for the region to able to attract companies and other institutions to become much more of a national entity,” said Prof Fitzgerald.

“We have competition and we will lose our programmes if we don’t do that. An example is aviation, where most of the aviation companies now are developing through Shannon and Dublin. Some of the universities in Dublin are moving into the aviation area. It’s really important to look at the national landscape when we are putting programmes together.”

A masterplan being developed for UL must emphasise its links to the city, he said.

“I said to the architects that I want to think of UL not as not as being out in Castletroy, but being part of the city of Limerick,” he said.

Prof Fitzgerald is vice president for health affairs at University College Dublin. Last October, it was announced that he would succeed Don Barry at UL.


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