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Dolores O’Riordan UCD

Dolores O’Riordan: "Immersing yourself in a culture is how you come to understand it."

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From January 2024, Professor Dolores O’Riordan (University College Dublin/An Coláiste Ollscoile Baile Átha Cliath) takes on the role of Chair of Una Europa’s Board of Directors. Formerly Director of UCD’s Institute of Food and Health, Dolores has steered UCD’s strategy to achieve impact internationally since 2015 as Vice-President for Global Engagement.

Here, Dolores celebrates the synergies between UCD and Una Europa, shares her outlook on acting globally, and explains how her background as a food scientist fuels her enthusiasm for Una Europa’s forthcoming Joint Bachelor in Sustainability.

Dolores, what does it mean to you to step into the role of Chair of Una Europa’s Board of Directors?

It's a great honour and indeed a great pleasure for me to take on the role of Chair for 2024. It's magnificent to be involved with an alliance of 11 universities, all with a very high standing across Europe yet all bringing their own unique identity to the table.

I’ve had an opportunity to input on the scope of Una Europa’s 2030 Strategy; as incoming Chair, it's nice to have a sense of ownership of that. I’m looking forward to realising the strategy – I'm very much on board with its three Strategic Pillars, which are articulated in line with what universities do best: Pioneering the Education of the Future; Powering the Research of the Future; and probably the most important part, outreach to society, Shaping the Society of the Future.

The structure we’ve put in place to realise the Strategy is robust and we’re making good progress. Over the year ahead, I hope that we will further innovate in advancing the Strategy and realising our shared vision.

UCD is one of the alliance’s newest partners. What synergies do you see between your university and Una Europa?

In terms of core values, Una Europa and UCD are very much in alignment. First of all, there’s UCD’s commitment to Europe. We are founding members of UNICA, the Network of Universities from the Capitals of Europe. It would be remiss of me not to mention the late Peter Sutherland, the UCD alumnus who launched the Erasmus programme in 1987. UCD has been very involved in the Erasmus programme over the years, achieving significant funding and our faculty and students availing of all the opportunities the programme offers. A key tenet of UCD’s Global Engagement Strategy is to provide a global experience for all. It’s fantastic to now be involved with an alliance that gives the whole UCD community even bigger opportunities to be involved in Europe.

UCD is a research-intensive organisation. Our four key themes – Creating a Sustainable Global Society; Transforming through Digital Technology; Building a Healthy World; and Empowering Humanity – very much align with Una Europa’s Focus Areas. The UCD community can really identify with the themes of Una Europa, its vision, and they're keen to make new links with partners across the alliance.

As a research university, we’re very active in terms of European funding. UCD is actually the national leader in securing European research funds. Our motto is ad astra – ‘to the stars’ – so we're also constantly striving for excellence. I think that is in tune what we're trying to do in Una Europa.

The third strand of the Una Europa Strategy, societal impact… that really is what UCD is about. Historically, we have had a significant role in the foundation of the Irish state, and we continue to have the betterment of society at the core of what we do, both from an educational and scholarly point of view and from a research perspective.

The Una Europa General Assembly gathered at University College Dublin in December 2023. The three-day programme was shaped by the theme of storytelling, reflecting Ireland and UCD's rich literary history.

‘Acting globally’ is one of Una Europa’s Institutional Drivers. Where do you see the alliance achieving impact internationally?

My role for the past eight years been as UCD’s Vice-President for Global Engagement, so ‘acting globally’ is something that's close to my heart. Una Europa’s collaboration with Africa to date is in line with my own vision. Just last May I was pleased to launch UCD’s strategy for Africa, which emphasises co-partnership – African institutions and UCD being on an equal standing. I see that it’s going to be the very same for Una Europa. Africa is a large, diverse continent so we will need to bring some focus to what our activities as an alliance are going to be in the region. The Una Europa–Africa Partnership Seed Funding Call is a great start and it's something I feel strongly about developing further. In the longer term, I would like to see greater connection with the Americas, particularly Latin America. [Una Europa's International Task Force has launched a Latin America Subgroup to explore potential partnerships in the region.]

I began my own international experience working across Europe, in Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. I had the realisation that immersing yourself in a culture is how you come to understand it. I take the same approach when looking globally: you need to immerse yourself. I think that's what leads to harmony. If we are to realise Una Europa’s vision in terms of having a real impact on society globally, we must have a proper understanding of the societies we’re collaborating with. European values can’t simply be catapulted onto other societies; we have to work in partnership.

Apart from the global dimension, is there are an aspect of Una Europa’s work you’re excited to get to grips with?

As an academic, my research field obviously matters a lot to me – my background is in food and health and I’m currently president of the European Federation of Food Science and Technologies, a not-for-profit organisation that connects over 130 different institutes right across Europe under the mission ‘food for all in a changing world’ – so I’m particularly excited about Una Europa’s forthcoming Joint Bachelor in Sustainability. We have huge issues to deal with in the sustainability of food production. I’m excited to see the Bachelor programme come to fruition and afford students right across Europe the chance to come together to engage with one of the biggest challenges we're facing globally right now.