The end of Patrick Prendergast’s tenure as provost has been overshadowed by the impact of coronavirus. But yesterday, he invited Trinity staff and students to look back on what has inarguably been a decade of transformation.
Different groups will likely reflect on Prendergast’s legacy in different ways. For students, the negative effects of commercialisation and the chaos of implementing the Trinity Education Project come to mind. The review, however, crunched the numbers, demonstrating how Trinity moved away from reliance on state funding to a more diverse stream of revenue.
While the overall tone of the document was one of pleased reflection, Prendergast didn’t ignore the financial elephant in the room: “The financial outlook for the university will continue to remain uncertain unless the Government commits to long-term funding or lifts the cap on undergraduate student fees”, the review said.
Here are our top five takeaways from the review.
Diversification of Income
The review highlights the transformation of Trinity’s finances in the past decade. Donations and endowments increased by 115 per cent from 2015 to last year, with College raking in €27.8 million in donations and endowments last year alone.
Earlier this year, the provost secured the largest philanthropic gift in the history of the state in the form of a €30 million donation to the E3 Research Institute in Trinity East.
Income from academic fees increased from €113.8 million in 2012 to €163.7 million in 2020.
College’s overall income increased steadily year on year from 2016 to 2019, but dropped slightly from €396.7 million in 2019 to €389.1 million in 2020 – a foreboded effect of the pandemic.
The proportion of College’s income coming from the exchequer decreased significantly from before Prendergast began his tenure, from 70 per cent of the university’s total income in 2008 to 39 per cent in 2020.
Trinity Education, formerly known as the Trinity Education Project (TEP), was one of Trinity’s most transformative, yet most controversial, ventures of the last decade.
In the review, TEP is described as “the most ambitious renewal of the undergraduate curriculum in a century”. College’s ambition certainly can’t be questioned, but the transition to the new curriculum in 2018 was anything but smooth.
Now, three years in, it is largely accepted that the reforms introduced will prove successful in the long run. The project enabled more choice through flexible curriculum pathways and the opportunity for students to take modules outside their own disciplines through Trinity Electives, “thus exposing them to diverse perspectives and broadening their intellectual horizons”.
The review said that TEP also involved “recognizing and supporting the extra-curricular activities that form a crucial part of any student’s education at Trinity”. However, in November of last year, the Central Societies Committee (CSC) released the results of a survey in which some 76 per cent of student societies said that TEP had negatively impacted them.
The review lauds the Provost’s work to increase access to third-level education.
The report says that in 2019, 22 per cent of Trinity’s incoming students were from underrepresented groups, while the current target is 25 per cent. Access students have very high levels of progression and retention, and the Trinity Access Programme’s success has recently been replicated in Oxford and Cambridge.
However, 36 per cent of Trinity students are from affluent backgrounds, according to a study carried out by the Higher Education Authority – the highest proportion of such students in any Irish university.
College has also made leaps regarding the inclusion of students across the border. The Northern Ireland Feasibility Study, launched in 2014, sets aside a number of places for students from Northern Ireland to study on any course, except medicine, with three A-Levels, instead of the four A-Levels formally required by the CAO. So far, the feasibility study has contributed to a 60 per cent rise in the number of applications from Northern Ireland between the 2014/15 and 2017/18 academic years.
The number of students with a disability also increased from 818 in 2010/11 to 1,722 in 2019/20. Some structural changes have been made such as flat paths in Front Square, new wheelchair lifts and additional accessible toilets. However, the lack of action with regards to the inaccessibility of buildings important to the student body such as House Six and the Graduates Memorial Building (GMB) are stark reminders that Trinity is a long way from being fully accessible.
The severe shortage of student accommodation came to prominence during Prendergast’s tenure. According to the report, Trinity provided an additional 761 rooms through the leasing of luxury accommodation complexes Kavanagh Court and Binary Hub. However, both complexes carry hefty price tags, and the issue of affordability was less prominent in the review.
A further 250 rooms are projected to become available this year when Printing House Square opens, and 16 more in the Rubrics will be made available in 2022.
Prendergast was always keen to market Trinity as an international university. The number of undergraduate students engaging in some form of exchange during their degree has more than doubled from 522 in 2012/13 to 1,101 in 2019/20. In tandem, the growth in those taking a semester or full year year in a university outside of Europe has increased almost sixfold from 37 in 2012 to 211 in 2019.
Trinity has also expanded its reach through partnerships, such as with Columbia University. Over 900 students have completed the allied health programmes delivered in Singapore and there are currently 640 registered on the joint programme in physiotherapy. In addition, recruitment pathway programmes were developed with universities in India, China and the US, among other countries.
Trinity now ranks 8th in the world and 1st in Europe for Internationalisation in the Times Higher Education rankings 2021.
The number of international students peaked in the 2019/20 academic year at 3234 and numbers are expected to rise again post-pandemic.
The pandemic spurred on a new urgency in research of which Trinity was at the fore, but the provost’s commitment to research has been steadfast and the proof is in the success of College’s research centres.
In 2011, at the start of the provost’s tenure, the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN) built partnerships with 17 additional Investigators in Trinity based across multiple disciplines including Biochemistry and Immunology. CRANN researchers have generated 42 invention disclosures, 40 patent applications across international territories and five patents, with three licenses.
Some of the most notable pieces of Trinity research in the past decade have been in immunology, cancer research and environmental science.
In 2017, Trinity became a member of the League of European Research Universities (LERU) – a group of the most elite research-intensive universities in Europe.
Research was also put at the centre of undergraduate studies through Trinity Education, with the option of capstone projects and the partnership with the Laidlaw Scholars Programme.