A significant Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by Ulster University and South West College in the presence of First Minister Arlene Foster at Stormont Castle Monday 21 March 2016. This agreement has been established as part of a SMART Region initiative spearheaded by First Minister Foster.
First Minister Arlene Foster, during her tenure as the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment, initiated a Project for the South West Region entitled “The SMART Region”. The primary focus of the SMART Region Group was an integrated, place-based economic transformation agenda which had as its starting point, a detailed analysis of the region’s assets and potential for future development.
First Minister, Arlene Foster said:
“I launched the Fermanagh and Omagh SMART Pilot Project when I was Enterprise Minster after returning from a trade mission to Brazil, where I saw the concept being successfully implemented in Recife.”
“The SMART Region Initiative is about bringing people together to find solutions and exploit opportunities through collaboration. Today’s partnership between Ulster University and South West College is an exciting development, which forms another important part of the jigsaw.
“Skills development programmes for South West College students, together with enhanced research opportunities, will help the Fermanagh and Omagh region compete for jobs and investment by becoming better, stronger and smarter. “Working together in this way is a vital part of the development of a successful and prosperous local economy. I want to drive Northern Ireland forward by building on the strong economic foundations we have already laid.
“I commend South West College and Ulster University for the bringing the MOU to fruition; and I look forward to hearing more about the workings of this important partnership in the months and years ahead.”
South West College (SWC) engaged enthusiastically with the Project partners and completed several impactful assignments, particularly in the area of Virtual Learning. The main College focus was on making the South West Region an attractive area for modern and emerging industries to invest in and thus create employment. Curriculum developments reflected this ambition with new courses being provided in areas such as Digital Media, Medical Device Design, Cyber Security, Product Design for Engineering, Sustainable Construction and Energy Management and Environmental Science; in total, 26 Foundation Degrees, with over 1600 full-time and part-time participants, are now offered.
Ulster University Vice-Chancellor, Paddy Nixon said: “This MOU will ensure Ulster University can play a strategic role in the SMART region initiative by supporting South West College with crucial skills development programmes and the advancement of international student activity. At the same time, it will enable Ulster University to facilitate joint European funding and research opportunities that will enhance this region’s capabilities, positioning it more strongly for investment, innovation and as an emerging industries hub.”
Malachy McAleer, Director, SWC said; “This is a significant development for the South West Region. I am grateful that Minister Foster energised the concept and that UU VC Patrick Nixon was willing to work on the concept of bringing city-like services to the rural region. The impacts will be long term. There is copious research data throughout Europe that this type of development leads to long term stable employment in economically significant industries. This is exactly what a rebalanced NI economy needs in our rural setting.”
A detailed operational Plan is being developed to ensure the objectives of the MOU are achieved and the impacts will be evident from September 2016.