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November 19, 2014
Irish Education System Must Promote Interdisciplinary Approach to Learning

Irish Research Council conference outlines how research partnerships can address global challenges

The Irish education system – at all levels – must promote interdisciplinary ways of working if we are to succeed in the global economy and address pressing societal challenges.  That’s according to the Irish Research Council, which is holding its annual conference today (19.11.14).

A range of expert speakers, drawn from academia, enterprise, government and civic society, are addressing over 200 delegates at today’s event, one of the most important in the Irish research calendar.

Speaking before the conference, Professor Orla Feely, Chair of the Irish Research Council, said: “Interdisciplinary research is about drawing on different skill-sets and areas of expertise when dealing with multi-faceted problems and issues so as to ensure the best possible research outcomes. 

“At the moment, academic disciplines tend to operate quite separately – at all levels of our education system.  So, from primary school onwards, you can have students being told they are scientific, but not creative; or business-minded, but not linguistic; and so on.  This leads them to think that operating in a silo is preferable to cultivating diverse skill-sets or collaborating with others whose skills and expertise are different to their own.

“So we need to promote and support the idea that work across disciplines can in many instances enhance outcomes and impact.  More interdisciplinary elements should be introduced into school and third-level curricula, so that students are encouraged to bridge disciplines and apply their learnings from different academic subjects in a more cohesive way.  This will ultimately benefit them and prepare them for the multi-faceted nature of the world’s challenges.”

Professor Feely continued: “Successfully establishing research partnerships across disciplines ensures we have the means to examine, interpret, understand and address complex and growing societal challenges, such as healthcare for an ageing population, climate change and sustainable food production. If you take the issue of hunger, for example, there is a hugely diverse range of disciplines, expertise and skill-sets needed to provide solutions, including nutritionists, geologists, social scientists, biochemists, geneticists, environmentalists agricultural researchers, and more.

“Since its establishment in 2012, in addition to supporting excellent research in all disciplines, the Irish Research Council has placed an emphasis on supporting interdisciplinary research, and we firmly believe that exciting developments will occur in Ireland as a result.  With teams of highly-skilled researchers working together, we can develop innovative solutions to major global challenges.”

“A couple of examples of interdisciplinary research currently being undertaken in Ireland are: ‘The Programmable City’ in Maynooth University, which is looking at how information on citizens and places is captured and processed as data, how software is used to govern and manage cities, and how our everyday behaviour within a city is influenced by software – from traffic management systems, to restaurant review apps on our smartphones. ‘Project Life course’, currently taking place in NUI Galway, will produce research on policy reform to enable citizens to achieve their potential and to live fulfilling and productive lives, including health and wellbeing and civic engagement.”

Input by Madi Sharma

One of the most high-profile guest speakers at today’s event is internationally acclaimed public speaker and entrepreneur Madi Sharma, who runs the Madi Group of companies, focused on combining innovation and local action to address major global challenges. Madi is also a member of the European Economic and Social Committee, the EU institution representing civil society.

Commenting at the conference, Ms. Sharma, said: “Solutions for todays and tomorrows challenges will not come from politicians but from individuals. In addition to encouraging different research disciplines to work together, we must also encourage other sectors to interact proactively with the research

Commenting at the conference, Ms. Sharma, said: “In addition to encouraging different research disciplines to work together, we must also encourage other sectors to interact proactively with the research community.  Business, government and civil society can all benefit through research-focused collaborations.  By encouraging such cross-sectoral partnerships, we can develop better public policies and better services for all citizens.”

Opportunities for the Irish Research Community

Minister of State for Skills, Research and Innovation, Damien English TD, officially opened today’s conference.  “Irish researchers and the higher education institutions continue to push the boundaries in European and world research,” he said.  “This event is an opportunity for the research community to examine what the next opportunities are and to plan and set out how we will continue to punch above our weight amongst the international research community.”

Other speakers at today’s event include: Miguel Seabra, President of Science Europe and Catherine Lyall, Science Technology and Innovation Studies, University of Edinburgh.

The conference will include an overview of the opportunities presented by Horizon 2020, the biggest EU research and innovation programme to date, with a budget of nearly €80 billion over seven years.  According to the Irish Research Council, Ireland is well placed to secure significant funding under Horizon 2020.

The full conference programme is available at: http://research.ie/connectingcommunities-futureopportunities.


Contact: Martina Quinn / Sarah Harte, DHR Communications, Tel: 01-4200580 / 087-6522033 / 087-9858259

Notes for Editors:

  • Media are welcome to attend the conference at any stage tomorrow, and / or to interview the speakers for the event. Media wishing to attend or arrange interviews are asked to contact DHR Communications on the numbers above to notify them in advance.
  • Photographer Patrick Bolger has been commissioned to cover this conference, and will issue images to all photo-desks on Wednesday morning.

 About Madi Sharma:

  • Madi Sharma is a renowned international public speaker, particularly in the fields of entrepreneurship, female entrepreneurship, diversity, gender balance and corporate social responsibility.
  • A victim of domestic violence and a single parent, she established her first company from her kitchen at home, which grew to two factories and 35 staff.
  • She has received the honours of Asian Woman of Achievement and UK’s Best Boss, along with the fastest company to receive the Investors in People standard.
  • She is currently a member of the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels, a Prime Minister’s appointment, representing the Employer’s Group. She has also been independently appointed to the European Commission’s Advisory Board for Industry and Enterprise, where she represents entrepreneurship.
  • She is founder of the Madi Group, a group of international private sector and not-for-profit companies and NGOs, including: a business brokerage company linking global corporate companies, B2B and governments; a consultancy supporting SMEs, corporates, public sector organisations, NGOs and governments; an import / export company supporting female entrepreneurs; a sourcing and resource company providing back-office and database support to SMEs.

About the Irish Research Council:

The Irish Research Council supports excellent researchers in all disciplines from Arts to Zoology. An agency of the Department of Education and Skills, the Council primarily funds early stage career researchers: namely, postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Diverse career opportunities are enabled through a suite of programmes which partner with employers. The other key area of activity for the Council is the funding of research projects with a societal focus; the Council has established partnerships across government and civic society. The Council represents Ireland in particular dimensions of Horizon 2020 and, by providing supports for H2020 applicants, enhances opportunities for the Irish research community.

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