Athlone Institute of Technology
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|Athlone Institute of Technology|
|Institiúid Teicneolaíochta Bhaile Átha Luain|
|Type||Institutes of Technology in Ireland|
|President||Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin|
|Campus||18 hectares (44 acres)|
Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) is the only higher education institution (HEI) in the midlands of Ireland. Established in 1970 as Athlone Regional Technical College, it has expanded in size, scope, and influence over the period. Its focus in the early years was on providing training in a broad spectrum of occupations ranging from craft to professional level, notably in engineering and science, but also in commercial, linguistic, and other specialities. This has evolved considerably, and at present the institute caters for an educational spectrum that stretches from craft and apprentice training through to doctoral studies and post-doctoral research.
The college operated under the management of County Westmeath Vocational Education Committee (VEC) until 1993, when legislative changes established it as a self-governing entity. Five years later it underwent a name change by statutory order to Athlone Institute of Technology. The Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) granted the institute delegated authority in 2004 to develop, design, and validate its own courses, to conduct examinations, and to confer its own academic awards up to and including Level 9 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ).
The strategic plan 2009-2013 for the institute is formulated within the context of the wider social and economic development of the Midlands Gateway and the Irish economy. In December 2006, a vision for the Midlands Gateway was published, which called for AIT to grow its capabilities as a leader in innovative business-oriented research and development for new technologies, through upgrading its research centres and expanding the level of interaction with the industry base in its catchment area.
Furthermore, it recommended a number of strategic actions for addressing the productivity gap in relation to the development of the third and fourth level education and research sectors in the region known as the Midlands Gateway. These actions highlighted the importance of ensuring that AIT and other third level institutions in the region move up the value chain in relation to the provision of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, while also developing a world-class research capability in research areas that are aligned with and build on the region’s sectoral industrial strengths.
With the publication of this major regional strategic document, AIT took appropriate steps to ensure that its own strategic plan was in concert with the objectives of the Gateway. Considerable progress has been made by AIT since 2007 in ensuring that the Midlands Gateway possesses the sophisticated platforms necessary to support innovation-based growth. This is underpinned by ensuring better, faster, and a greater volume of innovation in driving and supporting growth in the region. Responding to the themes in the strategic development framework, AIT enhanced the quality of linkages between innovation actors in the region and ensured coordinated innovation support facilities and services.
The student population in Athlone is characterised by a high proportion of learners from overseas. In the current academic year, 435 students (11.1% of the student body) from 22 different countries are registered at AIT. This number is split approximately evenly between European and non-European students, although within that there are large variations. China remains the largest source of international students and in the current academic year, 164 learners from that country are studying at AIT. Recent agreements signed with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have impacted on the numbers coming from the Middle East.
AIT’s research strategy elaborated within its 2009-2013 strategic plan represents a significant and concerted response from the institute and its regional partners, towards building regional competitiveness and innovation capacity in the midlands, leveraging to maximum benefit the potential of a number of parallel initiatives. It has as an overriding goal, the scale-up of both the institutional and regional research capability and innovative capacity. Key initiatives within AIT’s research strategy include the underpinning and support of strategic research activities aligned with the strengths of regional and national priorities, the development of three focused research institutes in materials (MRI), bioscience (BRI) and software (SRI), the development of joint research initiatives with HEIs in Ireland and internationally, and the creation of a new research campus in collaboration with key regional and international stakeholders.
In the years since 2000, AIT has secured more than €23 million in research funding. This has been obtained from a broad range of national and international funding agencies, including the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI), Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), Health Research Board (HRB), the Technological Sector Research (TSR) programme, as well as Enterprise Ireland’s Applied Research Enhancement Programme.
The past decade has seen a major investment in the physical infrastructure of Athlone Institute of Technology. Some €100 million has been invested in developing an east campus and in the provision of new buildings and facilities. This best-in-class approach to the provision of educational infrastructure has benefited the teaching, learning, and research culture, as well as providing considerably enhanced social and sporting space.
Amongst the new purpose-built facilities introduced are the; • hospitality, tourism and leisure studies building (2003), • nursing and health science building (2005), • midlands innovation and research centre (2005), • engineering and informatics building (2010), and • postgraduate research hub (2010).
Furthermore, the sporting infrastructure has received a significant boost with the development of international-standard athletics and artificial all-weather facilities, while a new indoor athletics arena due to open in 2012 will add considerably to the resources of the region.
See also 
- Education in the Republic of Ireland
- List of higher education institutions in the Republic of Ireland