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Covid-19 recovery plan delivers university spending boost


Irish higher education institutions to get share of €225 million for digitalisation and skills development

Ireland’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which is meant to help the country bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic, comes with €225 million for research and universities.

Included in this amount is €40m for the Transformation Fund for Technological Universities, which will go towards digital infrastructure, local cooperation and staff development.

Also included is another €72m to be spent on the National Grand Challenges Programme, which focuses on creating a climate-neutral economy and improving digitalisation in Ireland.

According to an announcement by Simon Harris, the Irish research minister, the plan will fund initiatives at universities and in further education, as well as programmes to support innovative businesses, given that the future of work is still “uncertain” and disrupted by the pandemic.

“Our education, research and innovation systems will therefore become even more important,” Harris said. “To keep pace with future change and to ensure people can return to sustainable jobs, a higher and further education model centred on apprenticeships, transferrable skills and flexible education responding to evolving skills needs, and lifelong learning is required.”

Transferability and flexibility

Ireland’s recovery plan is part of a €750-billion EU-wide initiative in response to the coronavirus pandemic, that was adopted by member states in July 2020. The total size of Ireland’s plan is €1bn, meaning that more than 20 per cent of the country’s pandemic recovery budget will go towards research and universities.

Harris said that education, research and innovation would become more important than ever as Ireland emerges from the pandemic. He added that future changes required Ireland’s people to have transferrable skills and get access to flexible education, especially lifelong learning opportunities.

“This package […] will help us respond to these immediate challenges, while preparing for the challenges of future,” Harris said. “The new National Grand Challenges Programme in research will see mission-oriented challenges used to incentivise researchers to deliver tangible impact for society in areas such as health, agriculture and climate.”

Technical Universities reform

A dedicated pot of money, the Transformation Fund for Technological Universities, will help technical universities reform their teaching and research programmes, including how they deliver teaching to students who may not be able to access classes on campus.

The fund will be overseen by Ireland’s Higher Education Authority, and benefit the technical universities of Dublin, Munster, Connacht-Ulster, the AIT-LIT Consortium and the Technological University for the South East.

The Irish government said it wanted staff at technical universities to be able to learn from the enforced move to online education that happened during the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of this experience, the government said, students and regional partners should be offered “new and flexible ways” to access higher education through better digital connectivity.