Immaculate strategy

Professor Michael A Hayes, President of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.
Professor Michael A Hayes, President of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.

Access to education for students from non-traditional routes and joining forces with companies developing cutting-edge technologies for education are high on the agenda for Professor Michael A Hayes, President of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.

Since being appointed as President of Mary Immaculate College (MIC), Limerick in October 2011, Professor Michael A Hayes has channelled his formidable experience and discipline into producing graduates “who are not only highly skilled and ultra-competent in their specific academic disciplines, but also highly literate, socially conscious and intellectually curious, with a very broad general knowledge base.”

Nominated by the colleges of education in Ireland to the Teaching Council of Ireland in April 2012, Professor Hayes is an internationally respected academic in the field of Pastoral Theology and qualified Psychotherapist. He holds a BD from the Pontifical University of Maynooth, an MA from the University of London, and a PhD from the University of Surrey. In May 2013, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane letters (L.H.D) from De Sales University, Pennsylvania.

MIC’s reputation for attracting the cream of the crop is equally impressive. This year 40% of first year students achieved more than 500 points in the Leaving Certificate, while 25% of students starting the hugely popular B.Ed. in Education and Psychology obtained more than 600 points, Professor Hayes enthuses.

“The programme within the College which attracts students with the highest points on the CAO system is the B.Ed. in Education and Psychology, as the degree is recognised and accredited by the Teaching Council and is also recognised by the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI). The graduates of this programme are qualified to teach in primary schools or pursue postgraduate studies in a psychology field of their choice.

Drawing very bright students to its four undergraduate degree programmes; the Bachelor of Education, the Bachelor of Arts, B.Ed. in Education and Psychology and the B.A in Early Childhood Care & Education and a host of postgraduate programmes to doctoral level in Education and the Liberal Arts has also resulted in an extraordinarily low attrition rate of less than 2% at the college, he comments.

As one of the largest employers within the city of Limerick, the college currently has 3200 students and provides 40% of the state-funded primary (elementary) teacher education programmes, while the Liberal Arts programme alone has 12 departments and recruits quite widely in the region, he says.

Professor Hayes is keen to point out the college also offers numerous access and inclusion pathways for entry other the CAO points system into the Liberal Arts and Education programmes through a year-long Foundation route for those who may not have completed the Leaving Certificate.

“I just noticed someone who came on that programme 10 years ago is now getting a doctorate. We take people who are capable of high achievements from non-traditional routes,” he says.

MIC’s first ever Strategic Plan started in 2012 and will run until 2016. Bringing a sense of diversity to the system, providing a high quality and holistic learning experience and best practice, efficiency and effectiveness in governance, leadership and management are among its seven pillars into which the Plan is divided and are the basis by which the institution is organised.  Many of the pillars are aligned to the Higher Education Authority’s own overarching priorities, including teaching, learning and research Professor Hayes explains.

We’re interested not just in the acquisition of skills for employment, but also in the formation of the person, so they’re really ready for employment.

The College is academically divided into two faculties, which are a faculty of arts and a faculty of education. “We’re an institution that was founded in the late 19th century, initially for teacher education but we now call ourselves a College of Education and Liberal Arts,” he explains.

Students on the Liberal Arts programme study four subjects in the first year, then specialise in two subjects. The four-year Liberal Arts programme also includes a year where students have an opportunity to engage in practical work in industry or study abroad.

Asked about the college’s commitments to providing skills to create a smart economy, Professor Hayes stresses: “We prepare students not just for a smart economy, but also for a just economy. “

“We have a lot of research-based projects in Maths and Science Education, so it’s about using technology in education. We are part of the National Centre for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and Learning (NCE-MSTL), based at the University of Limerick.”

Since 2007, Lero – the Irish Software Engineering Research Centre – has been running an Education and Outreach Program to encourage students to discover and learn about computing and software development, developing Scratch lesson plans, to teach software development to students. Scratch is a visual programming language that makes it easy to create interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art and share these creations on the web.

Professor Hayes explains that two of his MIC colleagues are currently working in partnership with Lero, which brings together leading software engineering (SE) teams from Universities and Institutes of Technology, and they are looking at rolling out a Scratch programme in Mathematics and ICT education in primary (elementary) schools.

With MIC operating a number of learning development units focused on the shift in how higher education is delivered and the rise in blended learning, Professor Hayes comments: “We are very keen to develop informal links with and talk to companies developing cutting edge technologies about how they might be used for teachers and pre-service teachers and how they might bring them into classrooms in their work.”

“We would like to look at how companies would work with us as an educational partner to develop their technology, particularly for use in primary education, but also in how you would use it in the delivery of higher education.”

“We have a big programme on professional development and how we would be supporting existing teachers in the development of technology, particularly in the classroom,” he adds.

Discussing the prospects for graduates, Professor Hayes explains: “All our education programmes have a huge practical component with placements and they’re based on the link between theory and practice. In that sense, all our programmes in education are vocational-driven. People will have a professional qualification.”

“We know that our graduates are highly sought-after. We’re interested not just in the acquisition of skills for employment, but also in the formation of the person, so they’re really ready for employment.”

The biggest challenge faced by MIC, he says, is “always to maintain excellence in quality, the anchor of our work. In order to maintain quality, you need to have appropriate funding resources and the challenge is do more with less. There is real evidence of a decrease in public funding for higher education, with rising costs.”

Education is fundamental to social cohesion, he believes, and “social cohesion creates conditions for employment. What we pride ourselves on doing is being involved for more than 120 years in the educational projects which gives people self-confidence and a sense of preparation for lifelong learning, including employment.”

Under the new landscape of higher education, MIC is working closely with the University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology as a consortium “to highlight the role of higher education in the Mid-West region and to give access to those who come from non-traditional routes. We have a big commitment to accessing higher education.”

“We’re committed to working together in a smart way, in delivering the best that we have, as well as recognising ourselves as autonomous institutions. It gives us an opportunity to jointly bid for funding and to use our limited resources as creatively as possible,” he comments.

Limerick is expected to become a leading centre for commercial investment after the unveiling of Limerick 2030, a ‘once-in-a-generation’ Plan to guide the economic, social and physical renaissance of Limerick City Centre and the wider County/Mid-West Region.

With capitalising on the strength of its higher education institutions (HEIs), including Mary Immaculate College, a core part of the Plan, the future looks bright.

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