Oct 22, 2014

First Strategic Plan Since Financial Crisis in Changing Landscape

Plan shows ever-increasing will to be a major player in community, national, and international spheres.

Dónal Ring, Sinéad Baker and Jack Leahy

Enhancing and Diversifying the Student Experience

The College has ambitions plans to reform the curriculum and further globalise the student body.

The first section of the strategic plan is divided up into three sections: “Strengthen Community”, “Promote Student Life” and “Renew the Trinity Education”. The section is particularly student-focused, addressing issues such as the curriculum and the transition from second to third level education, creating a more diverse student community and enhancing the “student experience”.


The section begins with “Strengthen Community”, which primarily deals with students. Trinity plans to look at its policies with regards to admissions and access in order to “create a diverse and cosmopolitan community”. College plans to increase the number of students from “under-represented groups enrolled in undergraduate courses” to 25% by 2019. Diversifying the types of students that enrol in Trinity, including those from different parts of Ireland and other EU countries, is of central importance to these plans.

The College’s plans to increase the number of non-EU students are outlined here, a strategy which has received considerable attention over the last few years. College plans to increase the number of non-EU students in Trinity from 7.8% in 2012 to 18% in 2019. This shall be achieved in the second phase of the Global Relations Strategy. The advantages of this development that are listed include preparing “all students for a life of global citizenship” and introducing “students to a global dialogue”.

Among the high-level internationalisation objectives is the establishment of affiliate campuses abroad. A tentative venture into this territory was made last year with the foundation of Science Gallery International, which saw the opening of Science Gallery exhibition spaces in Moscow and Mumbai, while the College partners with Singapore Institute of Technology in the awarding of physiotherapy and occupational therapy degrees. Emerging non-EU super-economies like Brazil, Russia, India, and China are likely to be among the prioritised locations.

Addressing the difficulties faced by the transition from second to third-level education is included in the plan. College plans state that the number of students continuing from first to second year will increase from 84% in 2012 to 90% in 2019, although it does not outline its strategy for achieving this increase.

College is to place a new emphasis on online learning, and is to increase the number of student online learners to 1,000 across up to twenty courses. These will focus primarily on postgraduate students and continuous professional development courses and address pedagogical developments and revenue imperatives. The educational experience is to be changed to reflect the changing nature of education in the 21st century, including a flexible curriculum, and a global reach via MOOCs – open-access courses that will be provided in the areas where Trinity has recognised global excellence.

Curriculum reform is dealt with in its own dedicated section, and the plan promises wide-ranging changes to the College’s teaching and learning strategy. With the objective of ensuring “that our curriculum evolves in light of new discoveries in disciplinary knowledge”, the plan denotes a desire to maintain a strong research-led foundation and capitalise on the innovation, prowess, and academic quality of staff members. Student-led and peer-to-peer activities are to be expanded, “through which critical life-skills are developed”.

Reform of assessment and learning outcomes leads the agenda. In recognition of the evolving demands of industry and other stakeholders beyond the skills of traditional academia, students will be expected to demonstrate proficiency in teamwork, communications skills, and independent research throughout the course of their degree. Such learning outcomes will be embedded across programmatic curricula, regardless of the specific modular route chosen by a student. In the case of independent research, within the term of the strategic plan students will be expected to complete dissertation or final-year project-style projects in their final years. The idea has ruffled academic feathers but is a major priority of the plan’s leadership.

Education & Teaching

The plan places little focus specifically on improving teaching practices. The document contains one reference to improving first year pass rates, however that is mentioned in the context of bringing in more international students rather than changes in existing structures and practices within college. There is a general push towards developing the online and alternative portion of education.
Specifically, there is an emphasis on developing Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and courses like Continuous Professional Development courses, which are often evening classes. There is a passing mention of e-portfolios for students, however no specific details are offered.
— Conor Murphy

This is linked to College’s new Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategy, in which employable skills such as creativity and risk-taking are to be introduced into the curriculum and partnerships with business to be improved in order to provide opportunities for exchange, internships and placements.Connections with alumni are to be strengthened in order to create “mutually beneficial relationships” for both future and current alumni. This is to be achieved via initiatives such as the Global Graduates Forum, founded last year, and further opportunities for social and professional interactions. Alumni are to engage with College at a school level, interacting with current staff and students in order to “support internship and other career opportunities for our students and graduates”. The opinions of alumni are to help to form College policy by serving on advisory boards to offer “strategic input for the future direction of the college”.

Under “Promote Student Life” the plan focuses on the transition to university. A series of “programmes, resources and services” will be introduced in order to ease the journey from second to third level education. A First Year Experience Officer is to be introduced to work in this area, and skills on studying and on the transition to higher education are to be added to the first-year curriculum. The Student Charter is also to be rewritten.

New buildings are to be introduced, and old ones to be refurbished, in order to create space suitable for small-group teaching as well as more collaborative studies. These spaces are also to include catering spaces and seating. The document does not specify what buildings are to be worked on.

Very importantly, the number of student residences owned by College is to be increased by 2,000 on and near campus, including the planned refurbishment of Oisin House to include student rooms.

The plan highlights the importance of the student experience, that’s provided by services such as the Tutorial Services and college tutors, as well as extra-curriculars which “enhances both the intellectual and personal development of students”. Trinity’s academic timetable is to be developed in order to facilitate involvement in clubs and societies, and officers of clubs and societies are to be given “training and professional skills development”.

A University of Global Consequence

Research, partnerships, and creative arts are central to designs on international impact.

The second section of the strategic plan focuses on Trinity’s research and innovation, and deals with how the University will be structured to best mobilise its resources and make an impact on the global scene. It’s separated into three subsections, each one setting a goal to be achieved within five years. These are to “Activate Talents”, “Build Valuable Partnerships”, and to enact “Research for Impact”. In keeping with the line the Provost has taken during his leadership so far, there is a heavy emphasis on entrepreneurship and competing to become regarded as a world-class University.

It begins with “Activate Talents”, asserting: “Trinity’s position as a University of global consequence will only continue to be secured by academic, administrative, and support staff capable of deliver our mission”. To maintain and improve human resources, a strategy called Excelling Together has been drafted. This aims to identify the most important positions in executing the College’s missions, and pledges to draft top international academics and staff. It aims to better research methods, citing maintenance of the teacher-scholar model and improvements in the tenure-track and career path systems for teaching fellows and researchers as future targets.
The plan recognises the needs to adapt to the requirements of modern students and for academics to “up-skill continuously to keep pace with new technologies and pedagogies”. To meet this need, the current Centre for Academic Practice and Student Learning (CAPSD) will be replaced by a Teaching, Learning and Research Academy, although any practical difference between the two is left unexplained.

The piece discussing Trinity Governance is mostly concerned with continuing current commitments, such as engaging with the HEA to achieve previously agreed objectives and liaising with relevant government ministers. It briefly details the history of Trinity’s self-governance and pits it as a key factor in ensuring academic excellence. There is a line that could be interpreted as supporting further privatisation, stating that when activities may best be carried out through private means “these opportunities are fully assessed and operationalized if they are supported by the business case”.

The second subsection, called “Build Valuable Partnerships”, details Trinity’s goals regarding entrepreneurship and innovation, identifying I&E as “central features of Trinity’s future activity”. It aims to establish the Trinity Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub and expand the role of the School of Business before 2019. Here more concrete objectives are offered than in the previous subsection, such as promises to double direct research funding and a number of Innovation Partnerships Awards: a programme through which promising projects can receive up to 80 per cent of the cost of research and development. The College is set to strengthen research and enterprise collaborations, aiming to advance current connections with institutions such as The European Province of the Christian Brothers, the Royal Irish Academy of Music and Carlow College, and to continue to seek new partnerships throughout Ireland.

The subsection includes a small piece on Trinity as a creative arts catalyst, which strongly links creative expression with “entrepreneurial mindsets”. The plan includes improving creative spaces as a goal, hoping to set up The Connector, a new multi-purpose creative space, and Trinity Creative. The latter is a programme for current creative assets and aims to connect research, education, and practice, and includes the Graduates Memorial Building under “History and Philosophy”. The subsection ends with a commitment to strengthen the partnership between Trinity Health Ireland and the Dublin Midlands hospital group, reinforcing its reputation as a centre for health care and research excellence. However, no areas of possible change are identified, it merely explains and promises to uphold pre-agreed plans.


That there is a whole section dedicated to research demonstrates College’s commitment to it. All faculties, and different types of research, are addressed. The document specifically states that the focus and priority in research will be those areas that the College thinks they will be particularly competitive on in an international basis. To do this they are targeting at least 25 European Research Council awards and further funding from the Horizon 2020 programme.
The plan states that it intends to identify one major research topic to focus on in the next year, a “Global Research Question”. This is intended both as something that can be done in tandem with other institutions and a topic that will receive considerable attention.
— Edmund Heaphy

The final part of section B, “Research for Impact”, shows more content and less padding than the previous two subsections, recognising effective research as “a crucial attribute for a University of global consequence”. It details a plan to complete a comprehensive review of the College’s twenty one research themes, to identify those that are currently seen to be “of truly international significance” or show future potential to be. Other criteria are the presence of a large breadth of staff, significant recognized contributions, and the existence of a research mission addressing a question that is thought to be of benefit to society. Areas performing well in this review will be prioritised and will be given more access to funding, strategic-staffing programmes, and other College resources. The fate of research themes deemed less useful on the global stage is left implicit.

Section B includes positive developments in College infrastructure. The Estates and Infrastructure Development Plan specifies intent to improve research environments and facilities, by building a new structure called E3 that will house the Engineering and Natural Sciences, and to create a new Cancer Institute that will “consolidate cancer-related activities, including cancer care, research, and education on one location”. The plan also says it will improve Library facilities.

The idea for a Global Research Question (GRQ) is introduced with the grand statement: “Universities around the world constitute the largest group of researchers with the freedom to address the great questions facing the future of humankind”. Attention is directed towards an as-of-yet unspecified GRQ, to be announced in the first year of the plan, that will improve Trinity’s reputation abroad and “have a long-term positive global impact”. The research addressing this goal is set to be completed in conjunction with numerous partner institutions, which also have yet to be determined.

The end of section B begins by asserting, in an unmistakably defensive tone, that a university like Trinity “cannot but recognize the importance of international rankings, notwithstanding concerns about their limitations”. Targets to improve Trinity’s current standing are set out, and include placing Trinity in the top 100 of at least one major university ranking and the top twenty in European rankings.

The plan specifies measures that will be taken to achieve this – priority will be given to high-performing research, efforts will be taken to ensure at least 25 European Research Council awards, and a discipline-specific mentoring scheme will be introduced.

Citizenship, Security, and Civic Responsibility

The plan seeks to protect College’s historical prominence and traditional values.

The final section of the 2014-19 strategic plan details the College’s imperatives to “Engage Wider Society”, “Demonstrate Institutional Leadership” and “Secure Trinity’s Future”. It uses the grandeur of the campus and the historical prominence of figures associated with the College as a premise to assert the role that Trinity will play in national and global cultural, social, economic, and political discourse.

“Engage Wider Society” talks of building on the College’s tradition of “engaged citizenship”, pledging to offer staff, students, and alumni a platform to broadcast their achievements in education and research to a global audience. This shall be achieved through effective use of media channels, cross-promotion opportunities, and the cultivation of structured opportunities for students and academics to engage with world leaders on important questions.

Considerations of revenue and collection management have resulted in the ‘Trinity Visitor Experience’, which promises to create a more sophisticated visitor infrastructure. As one of Ireland’s foremost visitor attractions, over one million people – tourists, prospective students, alumni, and visiting faculty – visit the College every year. Fulfillment of the plan will see more collections opened to the public, each with their own entry price, and the addition of tourist amenities such as cafés, toilet facilities, and merchandise.

International Students

The College plans to increase non-EU students ratio drastically. This will have two major benefits from the perspective of the College: to greater spread and name the name and knowledge of Trinity College abroad, and to increase its income.
While they pay vastly more than Irish students, for many non-EU students education in Trinity, and in Ireland, Irish education is seen as better value than in countries where higher education is not funded by the exchequer. Trinity has set itself the ambitious goal to increase the proportion of non-EU students to 18 per cent by 2019. It is important to note that the number of students is expected to grow in proportion to the increasing demand for third-level education. The document also includes the vague goal to increase “the percentage of under-represented groups enrolled to 25 per cent”.
— Conor Murphy

The College’s stake in Dublin’s reputation as a city of global consequence is reflected in its plans to play a central role in the capital’s development. The strategic plan announces the foundation of the Trinity Creative Initiative, which aims to strengthen the College’s relationship with indigenous creative institutions in order to act “as a catalyst for the creative and cultural arts in the city”. There are sustainability imperatives too, and the College intends to work closely with Dublin City Council to promote this agenda. Such activities, it is hoped, will constitute Trinity’s part “in advancing Dublin’s reputation as a global city”. Broader policies for the recognition of College’s civic responsibility will be enacted by the Community Liaison Officer, whose role as a community ambassador for the College is to be enhanced. Such an enhancement will involve representing the College to Dublin City Council’s Strategic Finance Committee, vetting College’s increasing number of building projects for community impact, and engaging the local community with Trinity’s academic activity.

Under “Demonstrate Institutional Leadership”, the College delineates its aspirations to play a leading role in global discourse on sustainability, equality & diversity, and the Irish language. The plan asserts that the College’s purchases and redevelopments will comply, where possible, with the highest standards of energy efficiency. This imperative will also be reflected in research and advocacy activities.

It is asserted that “commitments to equality and diversity are values on which Trinity’s excellence relies”. Accordingly, the College projects a “leading role” in sectoral and national initiatives to promote diversity and inclusivity, with specific focus on the employment and retention of persons with disabilities. With regards the Irish language, a few small paragraphs explain a renewed commitment to Irish-language events on campus and the continued promotion of services and events for Irish speakers.

Civic engagement is also prioritised and the plan has clear aims to embed a culture of volunteering and public service among the College community. To achieve this, there will be a sharpened focus on facilitating opportunities for partnerships between the College and local groups – a recognition of the potential for experiential learning that volunteer activity allows. As with other primary objectives, this is to be supported by research, cross-community dialogue, and a will to inform national discussion on policy frameworks.


Many of these plans are outlined very thoroughly as they have been in the pipeline for a while, including the planned development of the new Business School on the Luce Hall site. This fits into the College’s plan to increase emphasis on entrepreneurship and related skills, and to expand the role of the school.
Also mentioned is the “Trinity Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub” which will be a subsection of the new school of Business. It is stated that this will be a centre for several incubator programmes, including Launchbox. The only other significant development on campus will be E3 – the Engineering, Energy and Environment Institute – due to take the of place of the prefabs currently sitting across from the Lloyd Institute. Campus is also expected to be further opened up to both tourists and the city.
— Sinéad Baker

The final consideration of the plan is towards “Securing Trinity’s Future” – not in the urgent financial sense, but in terms of defending the values upon which Trinity has historically thrived. Recognising the College’s status as “a major social and cultural institution”, the College iterates its desire to play a significant role “in the creation and development of a more just society”. The plan advances the virtues of global citizenship, quoting the great European humanist Erasmus in his longing to be “a citizen of the world”. To this end, the College plans to cultivate academic, corporate, and philanthropic partnerships with institutions across the world, as well as promoting the sustainability of global activities “in balance with national interests”. It emphasises the central role of independent thought and the promotion of pluralism in achieving this.

The mission to “formally analyse [College’s] public identity” was a prominent and, ultimately, controversial feature of the 2009-14 plan, and is reaffirmed in the updated version. One of the few specific and immediately actionable goals of this section is the completion of work on visual identity and logotype that began with the infamous “Identity Initiative”, which sought to modernise and ensure consistency in College’s visual identity. The plan explicitly states that Trinity will complete “the work on visual identity (including logotype) and ensure optimal consistency across the university”, and discusses Trinity’s place in the world in terms of its identity.

The new plan once again cites the value of public perception, professionalism, vision and ambition in marketing strategies and how these factors can affect the College’s long-term prosperity.

The plan ends with a brief thought on implementation. Certain financial bases are cited as essential, including the generation of a historical cost surplus of between two per cent and three cent per annum by 2018-19, a partial re-balncing of funding sources, and the growth of the College’s endowment fund to more than €180m.

This section of the plan is broadly ambitious, but recognises the importance of “aligning all the groups that make up the wider Trinity community behind this plan, ensuring there is a common vision and a common understanding, by creating a fully elaborated “case for support”.

The plan is to present the case for such to the public within twelve months in order to strengthen the base of the plan.

Photo by Sergey Alifanov for The University Times

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