Dr Des Fitzgerald to step down as UL president, citing Covid-19 challenges

27 May 2020

Dr Des Fitzgerald, University of Limerick. Image: Connor McKenna/Siliconrepublic.com

University of Limerick president Dr Des Fitzgerald will step down later this year, saying Covid-19 will ‘directly impact’ his ability to serve.

Dr Des Fitzgerald has confirmed he will step down as president of the University of Limerick (UL), with his term ending later this year. The governing authority of the university will commence an international recruitment process to select a replacement.

In a letter to the university’s chancellor, Mary Harney, Fitzgerald said his decision is based on the context of the Covid-19 pandemic as it “will directly impact my ability to serve the university”. He added that it will also limit his ability to “fully engage” once students begin to return to campus.

Fitzgerald took up the role in late 2016, commencing his term in early 2017. Prior to his appointment, he had held leadership positions in a number of academic institutions and was vice-president for research and vice-president for health affairs at University College Dublin.

In a statement, Fitzgerald said that under his tenure, UL had made important progress on tackling many of the “controversial issues” predating his appointment set out in the Thorn Report.

“We also agreed an ambitious strategic plan for the university which, in the context of Covid-19, will require some further review, but which remains an important vision of what UL can become in the years ahead,” he said.

Significant changes needed

Last November, UL unveiled its UL@50 plan, which included a target of bringing in 4,000 more students over the course of five years, and 8,000 more students in the years thereafter. But the university is now unsure how this plan will unfold as a result of the pandemic.

“Covid-19 will force universities across the world to re-examine both their business and academic models,” Fitzgerald said. ‘Significant changes and investment will be required to support the sector.”

He also called on a new Government to protect the university sector in Ireland due to its importance in the recovery of the Irish economy. However, according to the Irish Independent, the Government will not cover the estimated €500m in losses facing third-level colleges, except in extreme cases where a college’s future is in the balance.

Speaking of Fitzgerald’s tenure, Harney said he was a “transformational” president. “I regret that he has had to take this decision as a result of Covid-19,” she added.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic