Home » Life sciences » Empowering educational model that keeps pace with new reality of work

Professor Neville McClenaghan

Head of Department of Life Sciences, ATU Sligo

Mary Butler

Lecturer and Course Lead for Biopharmaceutical/MedTech Programmes, ATU Sligo

People in the life sciences sector are increasingly using online learning as the way to keep up with industry trends or make the most of future employment opportunities.

There was a time when a student would go to college, get a degree or professional qualifications, find a job — and perhaps never think much about higher education again.

Those days are long gone, insists Professor Neville McClenaghan, Head of Department of Life Sciences at ATU Sligo, a third level higher education institution (HEI).

Take the life sciences sector, which is forever evolving and diversifying. “We’ve gone from an industry often largely associated with biochemicals, to one visibly encompassing biologics, biomedical technologies, and medical devices used in an array of contexts,” says McClenaghan. “We’re moving into an exciting era of medtech, personalised medicine and companion diagnostics. The whole field of life sciences is changing — so industry has to equip itself with the necessary skillset to cope with those changes.”

This means higher education is not simply the preserve of school-leavers and college-based students anymore. In fact, the vast majority of ATU Sligo’s online part-time cohort are industry-based lifelong learners looking to build qualifications and gain transferable skills.

Working closely with industry to address skill needs

“These days, people can change jobs multiple times,” says McClenaghan. “For example, an engineer may want to transition to a scientific role, or a laboratory-based scientist may want to move into a regulatory role. Facilitating such moves may require new sets of educational attainment and skills.”

That’s why HEIs such as ATU work closely with industry to address skill needs with a variety of courses that upskill, cross-skill, or even reskill, employees. ATU Sligo’s Bioindustry 4.0 programme is a case in point, developed in collaboration with the National Institute of Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) to meet changing needs of Ireland’s agile biopharmaceutical sector as it progresses towards greater integration of technology and data.

Students want greater accessibility and the opportunity to study in their own time.

Mary Butler

Online higher education is becoming increasingly popular and powerful, notes Mary Butler, Lecturer and Course Lead for Biopharmaceutical/Medtech Programmes at ATU Sligo. This is evidenced by a strong and growing portfolio of more than 150 programmes to over 4500 online learners nationally and internationally.

“Students want greater accessibility and the opportunity to study in their own time,” she says. “They may have young families, caring responsibilities, be geographically-remote or travelling with work, needing flexible means of accessing relevant quality education. If so, ATU Sligo may be the HEI of choice, empowering learners to pursue rewarding industry careers, enhancing employability, and facilitating advancement.”

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