Dec 16, 2017

Provost Expresses Concern Over Columbia Course

The Provost raised questions about the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies's ability to contribute to the Columbia partnership.

Kathleen McNameeNews Editor

Provost Patrick Prendergast has expressed concerns about the ability of the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies to be included in Trinity’s partnership with Columbia University.

At a meeting of University Council, Prendergast questioned the capability of the department, with its current resources, to contribute to the Middle Eastern And European Languages and Cultures programme and the “significant risks” of an under-resourced department to the programme. During the meeting, full approval was given to three courses – including History and English Studies – to run from September 2018. Full approval for the Middle Eastern and European Languages and Cultures programme is pending a report from the Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

The Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies is a relatively new addition to the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, after being set up six years ago.


The much-heralded partnership with Columbia University – one of the top-ranked universities in the US – was widely promoted by Trinity at its open day last week.

This is not the first time that concerns were expressed by Prendergast with regards to the staffing levels of the department. In March, at a meeting of University Council, Prendergast questioned whether there were sufficient resources in the department, particularly picking out low staffing levels.

The Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Prof Darryl Jones, spoke for the department at the meeting, saying that it was looking at ways to increase income, which would lead to increased resources.

In an email to The University Times, Jones confirmed that there were plans to make an appointment in Near and Middle Eastern Studies to bring the academic staff to four, which would be in place for the 2018/19 intake.

In an email statement to The University Times, Prof Anne Fitzpatrick, the Head of the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, explained that her department “contributes only some of the teaching in this programme”, with the rest coming from academics across departments in the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies.

Speaking to The University Times, Prof Juergen Barkhoff, the Head of the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, reiterated Fitzpatrick’s point that students who enter the programme will have access to up to 30 academics. He insisted that its small size isn’t unusual, as most departments in language schools “are typically small”. The opportunity to participate in the dual degree, therefore, will be about “building strength and building capacity”.

Barkhoff, who isn’t a member of University Council, said he couldn’t comment on the discussions that took place in the meeting but explained that Prendergast and university heads across the country have constantly warned of the current funding issues facing the university sector. “That creates risks”, he said. “Arguably, smaller departments are more exposed to risks than other departments”, he said, “so I would understand the general concern, but we are addressing this”.

In January, Trinity approved the general structure of the degree programme, but left aside the more complex issue of fee levels and scholarships.

However, there are still concerns about how the new partnership will function. While external reviews of the four proposed dual-degree programmes were “positive”, each stressed the need for “robust operational arrangements and agreement in relation to regulations”.

At University Council, the Senior Lecturer, Dr Gillian Martin, confirmed that students must achieve the entry requirements for both universities. An application must then be made through a joint portal hosted by Columbia before February 1st. EU students must also apply through the CAO before the same date, with success contingent on reaching the requirements in the CAO.

Applicants are also asked to write a personal statement and submit results from standardised tests, such as the SATs. Trinity hopes that the college will become a testing centre for these tests and that students will be able to complete the exams on campus. On the basis of this information, students will then be offered an interview and their selection will be the decision of a joint-selection committee.

Students who complete the four years, two initial years in Trinity and then a further two in Columbia University, will be awarded a BA from both universities. Speaking at University Council, Martin noted that it was likely to see a high interest in international students due to the nature of Columbia’s Ivy League status and the popularity of the chosen subjects with non-Irish nationals.

Trinity is awaiting final confirmation from Columbia University in the minimum scores required from applicants in their standardised tests. Once the Trinity-Columbia Oversight Committee is established, a full validation needs to happen on marking schemes so students are aware of how Columbia marks will translate into Trinity marks.

Work is also ongoing in relation to the Trinity transcript and how to show the additional 60 ECTS, which are required by Trinity to be completed across the final two years of the degree, will be combined with the Columbia grades to show the full classification.

One of the possible stumbling blocks for students is the high cost associated with the degree. Students are required to pay the fees of the university they are in, meaning students would pay Irish fees for two years and American fees for another two years. Speaking to The University Times, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Education Officer, Alice MacPherson, said that while the programme is “exciting”, her main concern is with “the incredible expense” for students.

Speaking at Council, Vice-President for Global Relations, Prof Juliette Hussey, confirmed that students would be eligible for aid from Columbia University and that they were working to source scholarships for students interested in the programme.

MacPherson also expressed concerns over the workload. “I think going forward my main concern is that it has to be very closely monitored and the students have to be well-supported because they’re taking on something amazing but they’re taking on something that is a lot financially, emotionally and academically”, she said.

Calling the entire process very “considered”, MacPherson commended the College’s reaction to the project. “I think while obviously it is a great reputational thing for Trinity, I think having an amazing programme for students has been the goal and the focus and that’s something incredibly positive”, she said.

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