Improving collaboration between QUB and its counterpart colleges south of the border will bring the Belfast university back to its roots on this the 175th anniversary of the establishment of Queen's colleges across Ireland.
That's the view of Vice-Chancellor Ian Greer who told the virtual Belfast International Homecoming audience on Friday that there were "many opportunities across this island" for Queen's to join forces with the Irish university college network from Dublin to Galway. "But we do need a mechanism to make it happen," he added. "Goodwill alone won't suffice. So we are in discussions with our political leaders as to how we might incentivise these all-island approaches that can deliver innovative solutions for our society, for our economy and to change the world."
The Scottish VC, who took up his post in 2018, says the university has risen to the challenge posed by Covid and was now "looking to Belfast's future" with a view to driving economic recovery. "Challenges can be opportunities and now's the time to take them," he said.
"But we shouldn't forget that Northern Ireland starts from a disadvantage," he said, citing figures to demonstrate the region gets less than its fair share of UK research funding and provides only 60 university places per 100 applicants as opposed to England which has 120 places per 100 applicants.
Vice-Chancellor Greer said that Queen's had provided 700 extra places to deal with increased demand due to Covid despite not receiving additional government funding because "it was the right thing to do". 4-5,000 students leave the North each year to study in Great Britain and only a third return, he said. Developing a knowledge economy means trying to keep those students here.
Great start to @BelfastHome with input from @niexecutive members @moneillsf @gordonlyons1 and now Minister for @Economy_NI @DianeDoddsMLA @OUBelfast @OpenUniversity #WeAreTeamBelfast pic.twitter.com/eoMiaW5PRK— John Oh Yeah (@JohnMDArcy) October 2, 2020
He said Queen's had placed a special emphasis on enabling working class young people to attend the university through its pathways programme which introduces students to QUB before they leave school and provides them with additional assistance and an annual bursary when they are at the college. When Vice-Chancellor Greer arrived at Queen's, he said, 12 students were on the pathways programme. Today, 105 students are availing of the scheme.
He paid tribute to QUB researchers who are working on Covid treatments and saluted medical students who graduated early this year to join the fight against the virus.
The key to building a better Belfast and developing a knowledge economy which would be a magnet for foreign investment is partnership, he said. "A quadruple helix of universities, government, business and communities can create a partnership approach to take us from internal NI competition to international competition through collaboration. These are challenging times, but we can rise to the challenge together, emerging stronger as a City, a region and with a role on the international stage."
He added: "Queen's is absolutely committed to partnership and to our civic responsibility."
700 registered delegates to the Homecoming heard from 112 speakers from six continents over two days.