Microsoft has partnered with University College Dublin (UCD) to develop Ireland’s first Digital Policy Programme. A total sum of €700,000 was paid to UCD for Microsoft’s involvement in the programme. The funds for the Digital Policy programme were given to UCD as an “unrestricted gift”, module co-ordinator for the programme Kalpana Shankar told The College Tribune.

The funds are being used to hire a lecturer for three years, a post-doctoral researcher, and to establish the UCD Centre for Digital Policy, with funding for guest speakers. After three years, the university hopes to sustain the programme through income generated by student fees and funding through research projects. UCD staff will “retain full academic control and autonomy over the contents of what is taught”, according to Shankar.

Professor Eugenia Siapera will lead the new UCD Centre for Digital Policy whilst

Elizabeth Farries has been appointed Assistant Professor for the programme. There are also plans to appoint a Microsoft Newman Fellow in Digital Policy in September.

The programme focuses on building digital policy capability amongst the public and private sector in Ireland and across the European Union.

It aims to provide a relevant digital policy framework in which organisations can operate, ranging from start-ups and SMEs who wish to enhance their knowledge of the digital policy landscape, to those in government who require the necessary skills to amend existing legislation to protect society in an ever-changing digital world. The programme is designed to equip graduates with the necessary expertise to remedy short term issues in digital policy while also developing a thorough set of skills for ensuring successful long-term impact. 

The Microsoft-UCD Digital Policy Programme was created by UCD in collaboration with Microsoft in Ireland and in Brussels. Key stakeholders from industry, non-government organisations, law makers, and existing expertise in UCD were drawn together to structure the programme. 

The establishment of the diploma and masters programmes follows the successful annual running of a Digital Policy workshop by UCD and Microsoft, the first of which took place in 2019.

The Professional Certification in Digital Policy is first due to run for a week in December 2020, whilst the first MSc in Digital Policy is set to begin in the 2020/2021 academic year. The core modules in the MSc in Digital Policy will be offered from the UCD School of Information and Communication studies with the support from Microsoft Ireland. Students will be also able to select a wide range of optional modules from other Schools in the College of Social Sciences and Law, and Computer Science. 

Cathriona Hallahan, Managing Director of Microsoft Ireland, said the development of this programme in UCD will further support Ireland’s ambition to become the digital leader of Europe.

“Irish policy makers have the potential to take the lead in Europe on the evolution of laws and policies that remain relevant in a digital world while also fostering innovation and building trust”, said Hallahan. “This much needed and timely programme will help to advance capabilities amongst Irish and EU policy makers on legislative and policy matters that arise in the context of digital technologies.”

With UCD’s projected losses of up to €100m this year due to the financial cost associated with COVID-19 repercussions, Microsoft’s sponsorship of the new Digital Policy programme is undoubtedly welcome news for UCD.

Last year, Jim Miley, director-general of the Irish Universities Association, warned the Oireachtas committee about the effects of the dramatic cuts in funding to third-level institutions over the last decade. 

The core grant from the Higher Education Authority to third-level institutions has dropped from almost €9,000 per student in 2008/09 to just over €5,000 per student now, a decline of 43 per cent”, Miley claimed.

Should this downward trend continue given the ongoing global recession, we may see UCD further collaborate with corporations to finance initiatives, as previously seen in the opening of the €20 million UCD Moore Centre for Business in partnership with PwC and KPMG.


Nessa Collins – Reporter