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NUI Galway Leading the Way in Designing the Future of Education

NUI Galway Leading the Way in Designing the Future of Education

16 December 21
 | 10 MINS

In the months preceding COVID-19’s classification as a global pandemic, the Irish Government funded a number of large-scale, transformative projects in the higher education and university sector.

The focus of these initiatives was to develop and deploy innovative educational approaches and technologies to change fundamentally how students experience their university education.

One of the projects funded under this scheme (the Human Capital Initiative) is NUI Galway’s ‘Designing Futures’ programme, which was awarded €7.57m for a period of five years, 2020–2025.

One of the projects funded under this scheme (the Human Capital Initiative) is NUI Galway’s ‘Designing Futures’ programme, which was awarded €7.57m for a period of five years, 2020–2025.

The focus of Designing Futures is to enhance employability of NUI Galway graduates through promoting greater engagement with civic society, community and enterprise during their studies, while augmenting their overall education and preparedness for life in the challenging, post-pandemic, future.

A key aspect of the programme is working with enterprises such as Aerogen, Boston Scientific, SAP, Rent the Runway, Mbryonics, Veryan, Channel Mechanics and Medtronic – and civic and cultural organisations, including Galway International Arts Festival. Designing Futures aims to nurture and support students to be ready for life and the workplace of the future and to develop new skills to equip them with the abilities and competences to drive economic growth.



NUI Galway Leading the Way in Designing the Future of Education

As we look with hope to life post-pandemic, a programme such as Designing Futures assumes even greater importance in providing our students and graduates with the critical broad and rounded competences and skills needed to engage with the increasingly complex and challenging world of today and tomorrow.

According to the UN, COVID-19 has caused disruption to the education of more than 1.5bn learners globally, roughly equivalent to the number of people that lived on the entire planet during the flu pandemic of 1918–1920. Therefore, new educational approaches and ideas like Designing Futures are imperative for the world now emerging.

Designing Futures here in NUI Galway aims to contribute to a rounded, holistic development of our students by coordinating a range of innovations to enhance their educational experience.

There are four core pillars to Designing Futures:

A personalised student experience scaffolded by success coaches to support students to design their futures with a key focus on maximising their university experience; this incorporates an innovative personal development module, Designing Your Life (DYL), linked with and based on this approach which has been developed by Stanford University.

A new state of the art human-centred design studio, IdeasLab, which intersects with our enterprise partners to develop curricular and co-curricular experiences that are driven by design thinking, technology-enhanced learning, curiosity, creativity and empathy.

A new suite of modules focused on trans-disciplinary learning and action, which breaks down the traditional silos of academic specialism, promoting innovative thinking and problem-solving across the university curriculum.

Modelled on the approach of Georgia Institute of Technology, the introduction of vertically integrated projects (VIPs), which bring together multidisciplinary teams of staff and students to solve research challenges in culture, enterprise and society.

NUI Galway Leading the Way in Designing the Future of Education
Photo by Barney Yau on Unsplash.

Design is a major aspect of Designing Futures, in particular, the application of design thinking to enhance our students’ education. Design is increasingly applied as a concept in business and society as evidenced by, for example, the growth of design thinking in industry and enterprise, and the importance and popularity of planning for exercise and nutrition programmes. However, while it is a profound question, how we design our careers and lives can seem a challenging, even amorphous or elusive notion.

To support a systematic approach to career/life design, Stanford University’s Designing Your Life (DYL) approach aims to provide a set of resources for systematically applying concepts and principles from design thinking, often used in product and technology development, to designing one’s life. DYL is not presented as a prescriptive methodology, but rather a range of approaches that can be adapted to support a, hopefully, more informed understanding and enactment of career and life aspirations, goals and plans.

Designing Futures will create a sustainable system that ensures every undergraduate student entering NUI Galway embarks on a personalised and assessed learning journey that combines discipline-specific and transversal skills development, with students being formally recognised for those skills. The programme will deliver this with a unique mix of skills coaching, trans-disciplinary modules and co-curricular engagement, all underpinned by technology.

Designing Futures has been designed in partnership with enterprises, students and international academic partners. These partners will be actively co-creating innovative curricula and co-curricular activities with us. Designing Futures has changed how NUI Galway engages with enterprise on enhanced graduate skills for work and life and is moving us from a transactional model to a fully developed and cohesive framework for partnership.

The objectives of Designing Futures are:

Differentiation of the NUI Galway student experience

Student-centred transdisciplinary learning

Sense of belonging and ownership for students

Clear personal pathways and supports

Increased retention and progression

Open curriculum that makes the most of a generalist university experience

Enterprise integration though managed engagement

Preparation for life after university: from employability to personal empowerment

Clearer signposting of professional skills achievements to potential employers

It represents a major change in the approach to education at university level, while developing essential 21st Century life-skills.

Designing Futures makes NUI Galway distinctive by building on the university’s considerable, established and existing strengths as an engine of creativity, employability and innovation nationally and in the region.  It also supports and promotes closer working with enterprise, industry, and society.  It represents a major change in the approach to education at university level, while developing essential 21st Century life-skills in collaboration, transversal and transdisciplinary learning, entrepreneurship, creativity and critical thinking. Designing Futures enables NUI Galway to become an exemplar model for the university of the future.


Dr Tony Hall

Dr Tony Hall is Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology, School of Education, and the Director of Educational Design Research for Designing Futures at NUI Galway. He is also the General Editor of Ireland's principal educational research journal, Irish Educational Studies, published internationally by Routledge/Taylor & Francis.

Ms Natalie Walsh

Ms Natalie Walsh is the Director of Entrepreneurial Development in NUI Galway.  Her expertise spans Design Thinking, Lean and Business Model Canvas Approaches and Entrepreneurial Education. Natalie is a Certified Educator with Stanford’s Life Design Lab. 


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