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Posted 24 November 2008

A Decade of PRTLI at UCD - The Power of Leveraged Philanthropy

Ten years of the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI) investment has not just made a difference to the Belfield campus, it has enabled UCD academics to make a difference to the world in which we live.  Steps towards new therapies for fighting disease, tackling issues relating to world poverty, growing bacteria to covert polystyrene into biodegradable plastic, generating green city guidelines, advising policy on health, ageing and retirement, and capturing the historical significance of the Good Friday Agreement are just some of the outputs at UCD made possible through dedicated investment in research over the past ten years.

A total of €164 million from public, private and matching funds has been committed to UCD through the PRTLI *.  €99 million of this was invested in dedicated research buildings (15,000 sq m) and equipment on the Belfield campus.

Dr Jimmy Devins, TD, Minister for Science, Technology & Innovation with Prof Desmond Fitzgerald, Vice-President for Research, UCD, pictured far right with solar hydrogen fuel cell model cars which run on water

Among the major capital projects funded by PRTLI are the UCD Conway Institute for Biomolecular and Biomedical Research; the UCD Geary Institute, which looks at public policy impact across economic, political, epidemiological and social issues; UCD Urban Institute Ireland, which carries out research in the areas of environment, transport and energy; the UCD Humanities Institute of Ireland which concentrates on culture and identity issues; and the Centre for Synthesis & Chemical Biology.  In addition, UCD is a lead partner in Molecular Medicine Ireland, along with TCD, RCSI and now UCC

More recently, PRTLI funding has been awarded to the development of the UCD Science Centre South which will become the home of the Centre for BioNanoInteractions and the UCD Institute of Food and Health.  Also funded through Cycle IV, The UCD John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies, has been founded to engage and connect with this diverse global community.

Prof Desmond Fitzgerald, Vice-President for Research, UCD, and Tom Boland, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Authority pictured with solar hydrogen fuel cell model cars which run on water, at launch of the UCD PRTLI Research Trail

Most projects funded by PRTLI are collaborative and aim to create a critical mass of expertise and resource for Ireland.  The Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive for example, will form part of the national Digital Humanities Observatory which will preserve and present university digitised collections in an accessible format for researchers and the general public. 

Building on the educational benefits that emerge from strong research, PRTLI represents a significant platform for the creation of “4th level Ireland” which is designed to provide the knowledge leaders and underpin a climate of innovation for Ireland’s further economic growth.  In this context, PRTLI reflects Government policy and specifically supports quality graduate education.  UCD trains 30% of all PhD students in the Irish university sector.  The university currently has over 1,600 and is well on the way to doubling PhD numbers from 2003 levels by 2013.  Without investments such as PRTLI, Irish universities could not provide facilities for graduate education and post-doctoral training.

“It will be the quality of our graduates and our ability as a society to generate, absorb and harness new knowledge that will determine whether Ireland succeeds or fails in the years ahead.” The President of UCD, Dr Hugh Brady said.  “We recognise that the Irish universities must compete and win on the world stage if Ireland is to sustain its competitive edge. And we fully recognise that UCD must be central to this effort and must play smarter and more successfully than ever before to do so.”

High calibre students and staff will gravitate towards centres of excellence and discovery and we are beginning to see the benefits of this long-term investment policy.
“If you ask any student at any level whether they would like to learn from those who have read the books or those who have written them, your answer will be unanimous.  Better research feeds directly into a better learning experience for all students.”

Acknowledging the support of both Government and private bodies, Dr Brady paid special tribute to Atlantic Philanthropies.   “When the history of Irish higher education at the turn of the millennium is written, the name of Chuck Feeney will hold an honourable place. It would be difficult to exaggerate how bleak the Irish research landscape looked when I returned from the USA in 1996. A decade later, it has been totally transformed, thanks in large part to the catalytic initiative shown by Atlantic Philanthropies in relation to the PRTLI. Atlantic's contribution to UCD is evidenced in the research institutes, along with many other capital and academic developments across the campus.”


* Regarded as one of the most important building blocks for Irish research over the past decade and funded by the Department of Education & Science through the Higher Education Authority alongside private and matching funds, mainly from Atlantic Philanthropies, and the university’s own resources, the PRTLI has invested €865 million across 47 higher level institutions spanning four cycles of competition.   Just over 60% of the funds have been invested in capital projects to provide buildings and equipment which have opened further opportunities for investment from SFI (Science Foundation Ireland) and other significant public and private funders.

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A Decade of PRTLI at UCD - The Power of Leveraged Philanthropy