Q: How would you characterise the value of a more international NUI Galway?
I think it’s very substantial. As far back as 1995, the President of the University at the time, President Patrick Fottrell prioritised the space of research between science, medicine and engineering, resulting ultimately in the creation of national centre for biomedical engineering and science.
That interaction between the three areas was very relevant to the local industrial ecosystem. Galway is now a global hub with expertise in medical device technology across its whole lifecycle, from discovery through translation.
I believe the partnership with the industry, academia and clinical programs globally, is a key part of that development.
Q: Do you see any conflict between the University’s internationalisation and it striving to be distinctive?
I think in some senses on the contrary – the distinctiveness and internationalisation can be complementary.
If I look at distinctiveness in one area that I’m personally involved in, which is advanced therapy manufacture, cell therapy, gene therapy, bio-materials – we have the only licenced cell manufacturing production facility in Ireland (the Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland).
That’s a distinctiveness certainly.
Q: How would you address concerns about educating and training young people who leave Ireland and vice versa less developed countries where the education and training ultimately benefits wealthier countries?
I am quite emotionally attached to the issue, having lived what I lived through. When I left Ireland in 1988 it was five days after the birth of my first child.
I was leaving in many respects with a heavy heart – I had to leave to get the structured training and education that didn’t exist in Ireland at the time. But now it does.
The graduates here in the medical school don’t necessarily have to go overseas to get the opportunities and training. I think their overall formation is enhanced but it’s a different context to say you have to go.
In my day, we left with the hope that we would return, but relatively low expectation.
That also has changed substantially because the opportunities that exist now are manifold.
To avoid brain drain I think one needs to set up an environment here in Ireland, which is attractive. I remember a colleague in the US saying they couldn’t quite understand Irish people – that they came to America and they always wanted to go home. We talked about a homing gene and the potential for a homing gene. I think we need more than a homing gene, we need to create an environment here in Ireland that’s attractive to our graduates who’ve gone overseas to develop themselves further. I think we are doing that and I think we need to be very conscious of it.
I also feel quite strongly that we haven’t lost by people staying overseas. It allows us to set up a network of international connections with people who are very tied and loyal to our country.
I don’t think we have to consider every person leaves this country and doesn’t come back as lost. They remain part of a Global Ireland and are very, very influential in supporting Irish activities overseas.
I think the issue of Ireland taking from the less developed parts of the world is a more challenging one.
In our people going out for further development then we fill gaps by bringing people in. You’d hope there’s also bi-directionality in that movement and that we’re offering experiences and training and values that can be brought back to their home countries.