Higher education to become ‘more experiential’ in 2020, says Dr Des Fitzgerald

8 Jan 2020

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

The University of Limerick president sees higher education keeping pace with advancements of technology by teaching the fundamentals.

We met with University of Limerick (UL) president Dr Des Fitzgerald at the close of 2019 to find out about his outlook for higher education at this Irish university in 2020.

He breaks down the future of education into two key trends: content and delivery. “The content is going to be different, and then it’s going to be delivery. It’s going to be delivered in a different way,” he said. “I think it’s going to be more experiential.”

Future Human

Fitzgerald sees programmes already in place at UL providing this kind of education, where students can experience the workplace as part of their programme of study, developing skills beyond the lecture hall and exam settings.

“I think that it will be more problem-based,” he said. “We’ve done that on a couple of occasions [with] a couple of programmes here, particularly in our medical school, and it works well.”

‘You can’t just teach people technology. You have to teach them the fundamental disciplines that underpin technology’

Graduates with a work experience background will surely be valuable to industry in future, and Fitzgerald sees a demand from businesses to assist in this kind of education and training.

“The industry is looking for more blocks of time where students can go in and do a programme rather than night school, for example, and they want to be involved in the training themselves. So we’re seeing more programmes like the one we do with the biotech company Regeneron, where they provide some of the education and training and we’re providing part of it as well, and together we’re delivering a programme that suits the educational needs but also suits the needs of the industry.”

UL gets ready to mark 50 years in education

2020 will also mark the beginning of initiatives outlined in University of Limerick’s UL@50 plan. Revealed in November, Fitzgerald explains that this plan maps out activities for the next five years, but takes a much broader perspective as, during this time, the university will mark its 50th anniversary.

One of the key goals in the strategy is to attract 4,000 more students in the next five years, to be based at the new UL City Campus. This campus will be located at the old Dunnes Stores building at Sarsfield Bridge.

“We’re working on that at the moment. We’ve just finished our campus infrastructure framework development plan and a plan for development of a number of new buildings on the campus with a particular focus on developing education and training facilities here at UL.”

The focus of this city campus, Fitzgerald said, will be on “business technology, business people who want to understand technology better, and then entrepreneurs who want to develop technology that could be absorbed into business”.

The challenge for those charged with educating the tech workers of tomorrow is the pace at which technology changes. To address that, though, Fitzgerald said you need to give students a solid grounding from which they can build more specific skillsets.

“You can’t just teach people technology. You have to teach them the fundamental disciplines that underpin technology,” he said.

For its part, UL has adapted its programmes to include a course on artificial intelligence, developed in collaboration with industry. This is available as a part-time two-year programme and the university has just approved a one-year full-time programme in artificial intelligence and machine learning, which will focus a lot on the theory behind these emerging technologies.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic