As we prepare to celebrate UL FIFTY, this article provides a short history of one of the oldest Departments in the University, charting its origins, evolution and some of the more recent achievements.
The origins of the Department of Physical Education and Sports Sciences (PESS) date back to the founding of the National College of Physical Education (NCPE) in 1971 to meet the national need to prepare physical education students to teach in schools at post primary level. A decision was taken by the government at this time to locate the NCPE at Plassey, where the emerging National Institute for Higher Education (NIHE) was established in in 1972. The original cohort of Physical Education students to come out of Limerick commenced their education at the Brandon Hotel in Tralee in January 1973 and after Easter of that year transferred to Plassey to complete their studies where they were accommodated in what was a futuristic if not somewhat unconventional building, now referred to as the ‘PESS Building’. At that time the only two buildings on the campus were Plassey House (the White House) and the PESS Building. Due to its expanded curriculum, the Oireachtas transformed the NCPE into Thomond College of Education in 1976, where it continued to build a strong reputation in physical education teacher education attracting many high profile athletes who come to train as physical education teachers.
With the founding of the University of Limerick in 1989, Thomond College was integrated into the new University structures in 1991 and through this merger ultimately led to the establishment of the PESS Department under the leadership of Liam Dugdale. Building on this legacy, the range of degree programmes pioneered by Thomond College continues to evolve today under the guidance of the School of Education (SoE) and PESS, producing highly skilled graduates in a range of teaching subjects that continue to meet national needs.
In 1992 PESS appointed the very first Professor of Sport and Exercise Science in Ireland, the world renowned Scottish Exercise Physiologist and Sports Scientist Professor Craig Sharp. The following year UL became the first institution in Ireland to offer an undergraduate degree in Sport and Exercise Science. Building on its long tradition of sport related academic programmes, today PESS offers a suite of high quality taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses as well as research Masters and PhD (structured and traditional) research programmes which are housed in the modernised PESS Building was re-developed in 2012. Aside from the practical teaching areas and research laboratories located in the PESS Building, we have also benefitted tremendously from access to the world class sport facilities and sporting infrastructure available on campus through UL Sport.
In addition to our two flagship undergraduate programmes in Physical Education and Sport and Exercise Sciences PESS has recently introduced a BSc in Exercise and Health Fitness Management. Our expanding portfolio of taught postgraduate courses includes a Masters in Physical Education; MSc in Sport Exercise and Performance Psychology (Accredited pathway); MSc in Mental Skills Mental Health in Sport and Exercise (non-accredited pathway); MSc in Applied Sports Coaching; MSc in Sports Performance and this year new Professional Doctorate in Human Performance and Innovation which is a part-time online programme focused at the industry practitioner.
PESS is a highly research active department comprising of four research themes: Food and Health, Physical Activity for Health, Sport and Human Performance and Sport Pedagogy. The levels of research productivity and output in PESS are reflected, when assessing key research metric by Department at a University level, where despite its relative size, PESS was ranked 4th in terms of research publications from 2015-2020 and 7th for research contract awards greater than €100, 000 between 2017-2020.
In recognition of our national and international reputation, PESS was recently ranked in the top 50 (48th) ‘Sport Science Schools and Departments’ in the 2021 Shanghai Global Ranking which is the highest ranked subject area in UL. This achievement does not happen by accident and is a reflection and acknowledgment of the quality of all our staff (academic, research, technical and administrative); our undergraduate and postgraduate students, our academic programmes; our research output and research funding; our extensive national and international collaborations and outreach activity.
Since its inception as NCPE in 1971, the past 50 years has witnessed tremendous change in the life of PESS as well as marking a period of major growth and development. Building on our previous achievements and successes, we look forward to being a key element of the University of Limerick for the next 50 years and the academic face of Irelands sporting campus.
By Prof Giles Warrington (HoD, PESS) with historical input from Dr David Fleming (HoD, Department of History).
Prof Giles Warrington is the Head of Department, Physical Education and Sport Sciences (PESS) in the University of Limerick and a Professor in Sport & Exercise Physiology.