Today sees Teagasc, in conjunction with the Royal Dublin Society, hosting the 2013 Annual Walsh Fellowships Seminar. To mark the occasion, Teagasc director Prof Gerry Boyle has put into context the significant role that the Walsh Fellowship has played in facilitating high-quality agri research in Ireland.
“Back in 1959 the late Dr Tom Walsh, instituted scholarship and university research grant schemes for postgraduates. These two initiatives helped to strengthen the scientific base of Teagasc’s predecessor, An Foras Taluntais, or AFT, in its formative years by linking the organisation’s mainly applied research programme to the more basic research activity of the third-level sector,” he explained
“In the first few decades up to 10 grants and scholarships were awarded annually. The severe financial cutbacks, coinciding with the merger of AFT into Teagasc in 1988, resulted in the suspension of the postgraduate scholarships and a limitation of the research grants.
“However, improved finances from the mid-1990s, and in particular the availability of EU Structural Funds, facilitated a significant expansion of the scheme to its current level of around 200 on-going fellowships and a turnover of about 50 new fellowships each year.”
Prof Boyle added: “More than 2,000 postgraduate students have participated in the scheme over the past 50 years. A number of these are now , or have been, Teagasc staff members and others are employed in the agri-food industry in Ireland and abroad.
“The annual budget is now well more than €3m, consisting of the basic student stipend and fees and other essential direct costs.
“This level of investment meant that for many years the Walsh Fellowships was the largest postgraduate scheme in Ireland, providing research opportunities for significant numbers of high calibre graduates.
“Over the years, Teagasc has introduced a series of initiatives designed to ensure that the scheme continues to maintain and enhance a learner-centred postgraduate research environment that stimulates good research practice and further enhances Teagasc’s research capacity. These new initiatives included the introduction of formal evaluation and selection mechanisms; the establishment of a Foresight Committee to identify new science areas; the introduction of formal training courses in research methods for students; and the initiation of the Annual Walsh Fellowship Seminar in association with the RDS.”
Boyle went on to point out that, more recently, the authority approved a proposal to establish a formal link between the Walsh Fellowships and the Fulbright Fellowships Programme. The Fulbright Programme has been widely recognised, since its inception in 1957, as the premier USA/world scientific and educational exchange programme. The development of a linkage with this highly esteemed international programme has helped to further enhance the image and value of the Teagasc scheme.
Boyle also confirmed to AgriLand that, over the years, Teagasc has used the scheme to extended university linkages to colleges outside of Ireland and the scheme is now being positioned to ensure that the organisation can fully exploit opportunities opened up by the development of the Irish Fourth-Level sector.
He concluded: “This most recent development will ensure that Teagasc continues to assist in producing our future knowledge leaders, help to strengthen the climate of innovation in the agri-food sector and ensure that that the sector plays its part in meeting the national policy objective of developing Ireland as a knowledge society and economy.”
Pictured Prof Gerry Boyle