West Tyrone Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Top American university keen to forge links with Lisanelly Campus

Published: 14 March, 2013

Artists impression of the proposed Lisanelly Education Campus

Artists impression of the proposed Lisanelly Education Campus

ONE of the top universities in the world is currently in talks to form links with the Shared Lisanelly Education Campus in Omagh.

As part of their international outreach programme, the Boston based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has expressed an interest in forming a 'partnership arrangement' with the School of Making facility which will be based at the campus.

The School of Making - a centre of excellence for subjects such as science and technology - will be one of the shared facilities made available to all local schools prepared to relocate to the 140 acre former military site.
Lisanelly's programme director, Hazel Jones, has explained the Lisanelly concept to Prof Elizabeth Murray who runs the MIT Blended Learning international outreach programme.

With outreach programmes already active in several countries around the world, Ms Jones said MIT is "extremely enthusiastic" about how the Lisanelly project - with its unique background and history - intends using education as a way of bringing people together.

Ms Jones told the UH, "Having made contact with Prof Murray at MIT, I explained the background and concept of Lisanelly, and in particular the School of Making, where I see a centre of excellence for the teaching of science, maths, engineering and technology being created for all post primary students in the Omagh area. They were extremely enthusiastic about the project and felt that we would be an excellent partner for their outreach programme.

"For young people in Omagh it means exposure to inspirational lectures from inspiration people in an inspirational institution. It means exposure to cultures throughout the world and exposure for those cultures to Omagh and Northern Ireland. I think it's a wonderful opportunity for additionality within the Lisanelly project. Obviously, it will be a number of years before we have a physical realisation of the School of Making, but I am exploring opportunities for developing the partnership on a virtual basis in the meantime. We are still in the early stages of discussion but we would hope to be in an operational position by September."

MIT has had 78 Nobel Laureates and is currently ranked number one in the QS World University Rankings, followed by the University of Cambridge and Harvard.

The idea of the MIT connection was first raised during discussions between Ms Jones, West Tyrone MLA Declan McAleer and MP Pat Doherty.

Mr Doherty will actually be in Boston for St Patrick's Day and has arranged a visit to MIT to meet with officials and further discuss the exciting partnership.

The MP said, "I am determined to play my part in helping this unprecedented opportunity come to fruition and I am looking forward to making the case for Omagh when I visit MIT in Boston on Monday morning.

"Right from the inception of the Lisanelly Shared education project there has been interest expressed from within and beyond these shores. The model is a shining example of educational best practise and the interest shown by MIT will put Lisanelly firmly on the international stage."

Mr McAleer described the potential link as a "major coup" for Omagh.

He continued, "Their emphasis on applied technology has fostered a strong entrepreneurial culture along with high co-operation with industry. This is the culture we need to encourage in our young people, particularly at a time of economic recession when there are few opportunities at home and many are forced to emigrate from these shores in search of a better life."

Having been recently updated on these developments, Education Minister John O'Dowd told the UH he intends to arrange a video conference with MIT in the near future to add his support to their proposed involvement in the Lisanelly project and to formalise relationships.

Mr O'Dowd said, "Involvement in the MIT outreach programme would provide an opportunity for the Lisanelly project to be part of a global network and I want to see this opportunity developed to the greatest possible degree.

"I hope that my involvement, and the important work ongoing between the programme director and MIT will ensure that meaningful progress on this opportunity is made in advance of opening."

By Mark Mc Kelvey; Published in Ulster Herald on 14th March 2013