For Ireland, innovation as an engine of sustainable prosperity requires Government, universities and industry to work together in partnership, supported by the right mix of policy and investment, Dr Patrick Prendergast, Provost of Trinity College Dublin, tells Lynne Nolan
Has the Government made progress in creating a smart economy, and how has Trinity College Dublin played its role?
It is not solely Government’s responsibility to create a smart economy. There are many players involved, including Government, the private sector, industry and the universities. Government has an enabling role and has taken positive steps, not least continuing its commitment to fund research through Science Foundation Ireland and new ventures through Enterprise Ireland. Universities like Trinity play a critical role by providing education and skilled graduates as well as providing knowledge and innovation that translates into spin-outs and technology transfers. Specifically in the high-tech area, computer science at Trinity is involved in leading research such as CTVR, the national telecommunications research centre, the CNGL Centre for Global Intelligent Content, and Learnovate. It has also increased its numbers of PhD students and has strong ties with industry such as Google, Intel among many others. Additionally, Trinity’s Innovation Academy educates PhD students to recognise the innovation potential of their research and to exploit their ideas in a competitive world. We are also shortly going to launch Trinity’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategy that will further embed a culture of innovation entrepreneurship throughout the University reflecting our commitment to playing this pivotal role for Dublin and for Ireland.
For Ireland, innovation can become the engine of sustainable prosperity. This can only happen if Government, universities and industry work together in partnership, supported by the right mix of policy and investment. Dublin, with Trinity located in the city centre, is developing a global reputation as an innovation hub. The high-quality, high-productivity jobs in the innovation sector, whether in multinationals or indigenous companies, have a strong multiplier effect because they generate knock-on jobs in the non-traded, services economy. So, innovation can be the rising tide that lifts all boats. That’s where the future is for Ireland – creating vibrant, jobs-rich economic clusters. Trinity can be at the heart of that endeavour.
What are the most sought-after IT-related courses at TCD?
There is huge take up of IT courses at Trinity. Students recognise the career opportunities within the industry and we continue to provide capacity building programmes to meet that demand, from undergraduate level to postgraduate to graduate programmes and evening courses.
There are six undergraduate degrees, including computer science, engineering, and management science and information systems studies. At postgraduate level there are a range of taught masters in computer science as well as health informatics, technology and learning and interactive digital media. Just to note it is not all about technology and the creative arts are also strong in this area with courses such as music and media technologies. We know that employers attend the annual MSc Showcase and jobs fair with job offers being made on the spot.
What are the latest trends in relation to interest in IT-related courses?
The latest trends include mobile apps, web apps, intelligent content, big data, data analytics, software engineering techniques (SCRUM) for large-scale programming development and formal verification of parallel systems. The demand is high and the numbers of graduates have accelerated in the last few years.
Have there been advances made in addressing the skills gap?
A critical advance in addressing the skills gap has been the introduction of a masters level qualification with industrial internship. This has meant an overall upgrading of the quality of education provided. Industry indicated that companies required graduates trained to masters level. Our School of Computer Science and Statistics addressed this issue by adding a fifth year to their existing accredited computer science and computer engineering degree programmes. The additional fifth year confers them with a Master in Computer Science in addition to great experience that they gain from their six month industry internship. This has proved to be very popular with industry from small indigenous start-ups to large multinationals. We also got Springboard funding for a small number of students aimed at reskilling existing graduates.
How has the education system’s focus on upping IT-related skills contributed to economic growth?
Ireland’s economic growth is very dependent on the success of the IT related sector. The Irish education system has contributed greatly in providing training, skilled graduates and research outputs. Here at Trinity our IT graduates have gone on to establish many successful companies, Havoc, DemonWare, to name but a few. The experience gained in these companies has led to a strong infrastructure for the next generation of entrepreneurs. We are also helping to identify, encourage and educate young people to follow computer science and engineering related careers. One example is the recent Google- supported initiative involving our computer scientists, Bridge21, and Trinity Access Programmes, to educate current and future teachers in the more problem solving teaching methodologies that will further increase interest in computer science.
Are we responding appropriately to the requirements of multinationals?
Multinationals have been able to source skilled graduates for employment with the appropriate training. I am getting this positive feedback from leaders of industry that I meet. Here at Trinity College we are actively engaged in dialogue with leading IT multinationals, directly and through industry bodies, providing the best educational outcomes for our graduates and the sector. But, I think it is also worth noting that it is not just the role of universities to train our graduates for one single multinational. We provide them with an education for a career for life. They are skilled for employment and will adapt to any single multinational on entering employment there.
We must remember that the IT skills gap is not just a function of the multinational sector. Our indigenous IT companies are a key part of Ireland’s innovation platform. The indigenous software technology sector has over 600 companies, employing more than 10,000 people, and contributing €1.4 billion to the economy every year. Trinity has a strong role to play in equipping graduates with the skills they need to get jobs in the broad-based IT sector. And we can also help to foster a new generation of job creators through our new innovation and entrepreneurship strategy and the emphasis we place on bridging academic research and industry through open innovation strategies.