I am genuinely delighted to be joining you here, on site at the new TU Dublin Grangegorman campus, a fantastic facility that will play a central role in our nation’s education for generations to come.
The journey to this point, with 10,000 students now on campus, has been a long one.
The persistent vision of what this could be is one that successive Governments, including those that I served on in the past, have all been fully behind.
And I am very pleased to return here today as Taoiseach to celebrate the latest iteration of the sort of vision, ambition and creative thinking that has brought Grangegorman to this point.
But before I talk about CONVENE and the Enterprise Faculty Forum that I’m here to officially launch, I want to say a word about the last 18 months.
The story of Covid-19 has been one of terrible loss and great disruption, but it has also been one of resilience, solidarity and courage.
I know at first hand how difficult the Covid journey has been for the entire higher education sector and I just want to pay tribute this morning to all of you who worked so hard to keep services running through all the twists and turns of this journey.
The way in which staff, management, trade unions and students changed work practices and teaching and learning methods to continue to deliver a high quality education has been a really important part of our great national effort to come through the pandemic, and I thank you for it.
I look around this morning and see many faces I recognise. I see people who have spent a lifetime in education and I know they will have heard me speaking on this theme many times.
At the core of my political philosophy is a deep belief that education is the keystone of our nation’s success.
It is the foundation upon which all of our social and economic progress has been built. It is the great enabler of our citizens, and it has transformed us as a people.
It has informed my approach throughout my career and it is why I was so focussed on establishing a new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science when we were agreeing the Programme for Government.
It is why Research is at the heart of the agenda of the Shared Island Unit that I’ve established in the Department of the Taoiseach.
It is why the National Development Plan, published just a few days ago, mandates substantial and strategic investment in education – from primary level right through to advanced research and innovation.
And it is the reason why I was so pleased to be part of this morning’s event.
Obviously, much of my and the Government’s time over the last 18 months has been spent on protecting public health, working to sustain the economy through all of the necessary restrictions and then managing the National Vaccination Programme and our route out of those restrictions.
However, throughout that process we were also very focussed on preparing for a post-Covid world. We wanted to ensure that when our society and economy were able to function properly again, that we were ready for smart and sustainable growth.
That’s one of the reasons why, last October, we brought forward the Human Capital Initiative Pillar 3, supported by a very significant budget of €197 million over the next five years.
As you will all know, the central purpose of HCI funding is to strengthen and deepen the critical interface between enterprise, education and research; and the particular focus of Pillar 3 is to support projects that encourage innovation and agility in our institutions and our graduates.
What we want to do is make a significant positive impact on enterprise-focussed courses with pioneering methods of teaching and delivery.
We want to facilitate ever more engaging ways of learning and by so doing, provide lifelong learning and upskilling opportunities.
We want to future-proof graduates and ensure that there is a greater focus across the whole spectrum of Higher Education course provision on promoting and embedding transversal skills.
And we want to align our funding with national strategic objectives for the higher education system, and the future skills needs of our society and our economy.
The 22 successful projects announced by my colleague Minister Simon Harris last October met all of these objectives, and COVENE led by TU Dublin and UCD was one of the largest, attracting funding of just over €17.5M for the period 2020-2024.
It is a genuinely innovative project, supported by a large number of long-standing enterprise partners and I commend all of them for this collaborative effort.
Uniquely in Irish Higher Education, it is organised around seven major economic sectors – ICT/FinTech, Tourism, Food &Drink, Creative & Cultural, Social Enterprise, MedTech and Pharma.
It can, I believe, play an important role in helping to rebuild our society and economy differently; to fully embrace the digital age and take urgent action in response to our climate and biodiversity crises. Importantly, in this, it is closely aligned with the priorities of our post-Covid recovery.
The CONVENE Enterprise Forum is a shared space to bring enterprise and academia together and speaks to the essence of what we are trying to do with this Pillar 3 funding.
Projects like this, working at the nexus of enterprise, education and research can be a game-changer for our national progress.
Going forward, we need ever more and ever deeper collaboration between enterprise and higher education and I would be very hopeful that the CONVENE model is very replicable to other Higher Education Institutions, albeit it with different regional contexts.
Indeed, a lot of the work that TU Dublin and UCD are doing in terms of innovation and enterprise, individually as well as through CONVENE, represents a very strong model for the rest of the sector, all across the country.
I have no doubt that the CONVENE initiative will only continue to build on the strong start that it has enjoyed.
I want you to be reassured that the Government I lead is steadfast in our support of your sector and your mission and I look forward to following your achievements.
I’m also very much looking forward to developing some of these themes now in conversation with Eileen.
So, without further ado, I again thank you for your work and wish you every success with this CONVENE Enterprise Forum.
Go raibh maith agaibh.