What the NDP means for education, research and innovation in Ireland

5 Oct 2021

From left: UCC’s John O'Halloran with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Heather Humphreys, TD. Image: Julien Behal Photography

The plan will increase investment in further education and cross-border collaboration.

The revised National Development Plan (NDP) published yesterday sets out investment of nearly €2.9bn in Ireland’s higher education, research and innovation sector between this year and 2025.

Annual capital investment by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science will step up 30pc from €500m this year to €652m by 2025.

Future Human

Minister of State for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins, TD, said that the revised plan recognises the importance of the sector in Ireland’s future prosperity and resilience.

“Whether in buildings, equipment or research excellence, investments in this area are fundamentally investments in our people, and in the skills and talent that will enable Ireland to flourish as an economy and society,” he said.

Initiatives to support the Government’s Climate Act and help tackle the climate crisis were also highlighted in the NDP as key targets for the years ahead.

“We are committed to an enhanced focus on energy efficiency and decarbonisation, both in terms of the further and higher education estate, and in supporting the sector to deliver the skills needed for the economy-wide transition,” Collins added.

FET ‘colleges of the future’

With the island’s population estimated to grow by 1m by 2040 and the disruption created by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Government expects a significant increase in demand for full-time further and higher education in the coming decade.

To address this, the NDP lays out greater support for further education and training (FET), where capital investment is set to increase from less than €20m now to €100m by 2025.

The investment supports the development of FET “colleges of the future”, the Government said, through upgrades on existing buildings or the establishment of “a small number” of newly built campuses.

Last year, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, said that further education and training were a “lifeline for many” during the economic recession and will be critical to post-Covid recovery.

“Further education and training is for everyone. It provides an opportunity for everyone to engage in learning whilst delivering on the critical skills needs of the economy and the future world of work,” he added.

“This strategy will aim to address some of the key challenges we face including the digital divide, female participation and the skills mismatch we are seeing.”

Shared-island approach

The NDP has also committed to doubling the €500m investment in the Shared Island Fund to €1bn by 2030 for greater cross-border collaboration and investment. “Our ambition is to create a more connected, sustainable and prosperous island for all,” Taoiseach Micheál Martin, TD, said.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, TD, added that it will be backed by a €3.5bn commitment over 10 years for cross-border public investments – including education, research and innovation.

This includes delivering the €40m North-South research programme and the creation of new, all-island research centres.

The NDP will also see more investments directed to the north-west region, developing the third-level infrastructure and cross-border apprenticeship initiatives.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath, TD, said that even though the NDP is “ambitious”, it is achievable. “This 10-year plan will deliver for our country. It will build a more resilient, sustainable future to improve lives and living standards for all of our people”.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic