However, Professor Brian MacCraith hinted that the Government may have to introduce some form of student contribution for degree courses to allow third-level colleges to restore services for rising undergraduate numbers.
The 52-year-old was inaugurated as successor to Prof Ferdinand von Prondzynski at the university in a ceremony attended by 1,200 people, including the Chinese, Indian and Japanese ambassadors to Ireland.
“The mission of higher education has never been more important to this country, but shrinking budgets, coupled with increasing student numbers and the anticipated scale of future demand, are placing unsustainable pressures on universities.
“As a result, the quality of the education we can provide is under severe threat. So far, we’ve been doing our job leaner and meaner, but you reach a stage where you have to ask questions about delivering particular modules, and further cuts will put us into that zone,” Prof MacCraith said.
He said DCU has reached the Government target of reducing third-level pay bill cuts of 6% for 2009 and 2010, but said he hoped the impact of funding cuts might be limited if the staffing cuts are not extended for next year.
“Commercialisation and philanthropy will only ever make a small contribution to the overall picture. We recognise the Government’s difficulties and that they can’t provide all the funding, but they should assist us in working with the population to achieve that,” he said.
Some form of a student contribution is expected to be recommended in the autumn report of a higher education strategy steering group chaired by economist Colin Hunt following the rejection by the Green Party of any student fees returning when it renegotiated the Programme for Government last year.
Prof MacCraith said the submission of employers’ group IBEC to the steering group said there was not enough interaction between higher education and business on the skills needed in graduates, but he aims to address that in his 10-year term.
Among the initiatives he is already planning is a DCU Enterprise Advisory Board to take advice from global and national sources on the enterprise needs of education. But he stressed, economic enterprise will not be the sole focus, as social and cultural needs can also be addressed. For example, he said, DCU could help not-for-profit organisations meet societal requirements using business models.
Prof MacCraith has also lined up former Nobel laureates to speak in an annual lecture series, with details to be announced at a later date of winners of the global prize from each of the disciplines of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, economics and peace.
The Dundalk, Co Louth, native is renowned internationally for his work in sensor research and has previously led DCU collaborations with major corporations in developing new technologies.