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DIT Conference: Higher Education in the 21st Century – Diversity of Missions

Diversity and Differentiation in Higher Education Systems

Professor John G. Hughes, President, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Abstract for the conference ‘Higher Education in the 21st Century – Diversity of Missions’, 25-27 June, 2007, Dublin.

In pursuing its research strategy a university must exercise a degree of selectivity in order to make effective use of increasingly limited resources; but at the same time, to be recognized as a credible research institution, a university must not focus its research efforts too narrowly. There is an imperative to maintain a breadth of activity that reflects and supports the core mission, values and programme offerings of a university. The tenets of academic freedom, and our commitment to teaching excellence must be upheld. A suitably broad base is also necessary to ensure that there is a viable platform for future developments in emerging areas. A small university faces particular challenges in strengthening its research identity. However, smallness can provide the flexibility to take a responsive approach to interdisciplinary activity, while ensuring that the discipline-based foundation is strong. We must also seek strong outward connections as a balance to the limitations that our small size entails.

This presentation will describe the recent development of a comprehensive research strategy at NUI Maynooth built around four core themes:

1. Academic Restructuring: Developing essential spheres of research among cognate disciplines.

2. Focus on Interdisciplinarity. The establishment or strengthening of a number of interdisciplinary research centres and institutes

3. Outward Connections: Continue to build on an already strong web of collaborative links to other institutions and enterprise, both nationally and internationally, to facilitate a critical mass of research activity, and to learn from, be informed by, and benchmark ourselves against the best research programmes internationally.

4. Structured Graduate Education. Strategic, sector-wide, structural changes are required in order to ensure that the highest quality of education and training is provided to an increasing PhD cohort.