June 27, 2023

Actions speak louder than words

University of Limerick’s commitment to the wider environment around us has seen the university propelled into the world’s Top 100.

The university’s work on realising the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has been recognised by the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings 2023 which has placed UL at number 86 out of 1,591 institutions in measuring the positive societal impact universities are having across the world.

The ranking examines a university’s performance against the SDGs across teaching, research, equality, internal culture, and the impact it has in the wider society.

Commenting on the rankings, Professor Norelee Kennedy, UL’s Vice President for Research said: “The rankings promote and acknowledge UL’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals across the university – from its innovative research to its teaching and our interaction with the wider community on a local, regional, national, and international level. They show that UL is a leader when it comes to tackling the global challenges, we all face.”


So what is UL doing to ensure it is aware of its place in our wider society and not just acting in isolation?

UL has always been outward looking. From its foundation just 50 years ago, University of Limerick has always looked beyond the campus for inspiration, collaboration and innovation.

It was the first Irish university to offer work placement (Co-op) for its students. It also has the country’s largest Erasmus programme with more than 600 students taking part in an academic placement abroad every year.

UL is ensuring that research excellence is paramount across all four faculties. It is encouraging and supporting academics and researchers as they tackle the grand challenges facing our society and environment. Who are working to frame policy and legislation in many areas in UL’s wide-ranging research portfolio such as advanced manufacturing, software engineering, advanced materials, hate speech, data-driven cancer research, sports science, patient-centric healthcare, and the wide ranging and muti-faceted approaches to climate action.

The Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry (MACSI) research group at UL, was instrumental in the development of a statistical model to inform the Irish government’s response to COVID-19. The model guided the majority of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) recommendations, and government decisions, about mobility restrictions, lockdowns, and the pace of easing of restrictions during the pandemic.

Their actions do speak louder than words.

One such call to action has been the UL Sustainability Challenge.

Postgraduate and undergraduate students were set a challenge to develop proposals to tackle our climate crisis; to come up with ideas to make our environment more sustainable – to either the campus, the city or wider Mid-West region or further afield.

Speaking about the challenge UL President, Professor Kerstin Mey said: “I think it is absolutely crucial for the university to take a leading role and to educate the leaders of tomorrow to give them an opportunity, a testbed, so to speak, to harness and fine tune their capabilities here.”

The projects each received up to €10,000 to develop their ideas and the shortlist demonstrated the depth of research within the UL community, covering areas such as plastic recycling, thermal energy monitoring, improving sustainable agricultural practices in Uganda, biodiversity in the Shannon Estuary, and efficiency improvement and cost reduction in hydrogen manufacturing.

They are evaluated on the basis of targets, feasibility plan and societal impact.

A ground-breaking project focusing on sustainable agriculture practices and knowledge sharing in Western Uganda was chosen as the winner.

Rebecca Tumwebaze, a PhD student in the Kemmy Business School, used a bottom-up approach involving local matooke (green bananas) farmers, larger commercial farmers, agriculture specials and government officials to develop specific frameworks to encourage sustainable agriculture practices in the Rubaya region of Uganda.

Congratulating the winner UL President Professor Kerstin Mey said: “The rapid pace of societal growth has caused us to exceed many of the Earth’s planetary boundaries and the defining challenge of the 21st century will be to balance social progress with these environmental boundaries. It is therefore encouraging to see the level of innovation and ingenuity that UL students have brought to this challenge. At UL we are determined to provide the space and mentorship for our students to develop into citizens who act as stewards of sustainability, both in their personal and professional lives.”

Watch the five shortlisted UL Sustainability Challenge videos.

UL’s drive to ensure it is supporting the environment around us is underpinned by our Research Strategy, called Wisdom for Action.

At the core of UL’s research are strong academic disciplines which through collaboration and innovation have impact across society.

Sustainability is at the heart of everything UL does. Its discoveries in materials science, energy and environment, circular economy and food security are critical to supporting a more sustainable future for all communities.

UL is a community that prides itself in its role as champion for a more diverse, equal and inclusive society. Its research community is providing insights to the complexities of this vision across many areas including education, justice and social inclusion and the future of work.

Smart Society How do we ensure a virtuous circle where the evolution of technology and connected devices can benefit all citizens? To address this, UL is answering questions using artificial intelligence, advances in software and manufacturing, harnessing of big data and the opportunities of digital humanities.

The health and wellbeing of our global community has never been more critical. Through its research, UL is developing strategies for more person-centred and integrated healthcare, working to support its ageing society and innovating across materials science and digital technology for health.

And leaving the last word to the winner of the inaugural UL Sustainability Challenge, Rebecca Tumwebaze, said of her experience: “I believe that sustainability can be found in every field, from human medicine, logistics, operations, management, engineering. I believe everywhere a student is located; they can be able to do something about the Sustainable Development Goals. So I want to encourage my fellow students to look at their work critically and see how they can contribute to the sustainability challenge.”

More information on University of Limerick


Photo credits: Alan Place

PhD candidate Rebecca Tumwebaze (L) speaking with Kathríona Devereux, Science Communicator and Broadcaster after winning the challenge

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