A new Clare campus based in Ennis looks a strong possibility as Clare County Council scopes out the opportunity in cooperation with LIT and the Limerick & Clare Enterprise & Training Board. The exciting new initiative was flagged by LIT President, Professor Vincent Cunnane at the local authority’s June meeting.

Professor Cunnane is best remembered in these parts as the last chief executive of Shannon Development. Since the demise of that organisation, the affable Donegal man spent two years heading up IT Sligo before returning to the Midwest as President of LIT. The role offers him another regional perspective, this time in the field of third level education and Professor Cunnane appears to keen on developing LIT across North Munster.

LIT caters for 6,500 students in three faculties, Applied Science, Engineering & Technology, Business & Humanities and the Limerick School of Art & Design. Since 2009 LIT had offered a higher certificate in Business Computing from its premises above the Clare Museum in Ennis. However interest in this course declined and the college introduced a BA in Social Care Work, the first full degree course available in Ennis. According to Vincent Cunnane, this commitment to Ennis will expand next year with a BA in Early Childhood Education. He has also acknowledged that LIT is outgrowing the space available in the museum.

LIT also collaborates with a Shannon-based partner to provide part-time courses for aircraft records technicians, this specialised programme is aimed at aircraft leasing and MRO activities. Prof Cunnane said that the experience led to the development of a new degree programme in Aviation Engineering which will be available through CAO from 2018 and also in conjunction with Shannon-based companies.

Cunnane said LIT had investigated the possibility of holding higher level education programmes in parts of rural Clare. Specifically he mentioned an Art & Design programme in Ennistymon and a Culinary Arts degree in Scarriff. Unfortunately interest in these courses was limited. However if a higher education centre can be established in Ennis he believes it will be a focal point for LIT involvement in Clare and the college’s online offerings to the rural community.

Having come from Shannon Development, the largest property owner in Munster, Professor Cunnane said he no longer deals in property but is interested in discussing the use of facilities to provide third level education courses in Clare. “We are very interested in becoming the third level provider for Clare, in order to do that we need a space larger than the museum and future-proffer for those ambitions,” he told councillors.

Working with local authority CEO Pat Dowling, they are focused on developing a Clare campus in Ennis where LIT, Limerick & Clare Enterprise & Training Board and Clare County Council’s enterprise activities could be brought together.

Cllr Gerry Flynn congratulated Prof Cunnane for the innovative way in which he is trying to establish partnerships in the region. He recalled that LIT became involved with the former Shannon Town Council when students designed and built bus shelters that are still in use throughout the town.

Cllr Pat McMahon lauded the concept of an Ennis campus as “a wonderful idea for Clare”. He noted that three of the world’s ten largest aircraft leasing companies are located in Shannon and said the future of Shannon Industrial Estate is bound up with aviation related industry. “Having a degree programme within the companies themselves is a wonderful idea,” he said.

Cllr McMahon also pointed out that tourism is another massive growth area and he asked Prof Cunnane to keep a spotlight on this area in terms of future educational development in Clare. Cllr PJ Ryan also noted that aviation related industry is very important to job creation in Clare. In terms of having an available educated workforce, Cllr Ryan said this is something that more thought and money will have to be put into.

Cllr John Crowe assured Professor Cunnane that Clare County Council will continue to offer every support necessary for the development of an LIT campus in Clare. Council CEO Pat Dowling believes that the concept of having a third level campus in Clare in cooperation with LIT is an achievable objective and something that he is excited about. In an aside, he told Prof. Cunnane that if LIT is thinking of rebranding, that he is free to include the name Clare in the title.