10 years. A lot can change in 10 years. A provost’s term is longer than that of the president of Ireland, and arguably comes with a nicer house with a better address. 10 years is a long time for a coherent vision to be implemented.
For this reason, the strategic plan makes sense as a method of achieving relatively short-term aims, and articulating a view of College within society. The previous plan emphasised that College is uniquely placed within Ireland as a “university of global consequence”, and reputation and perceived quality of education are expressly stated as objectives.
If this is measured merely in terms of university league tables, or in research outputs, then the aims may not have been reached. But if this is measured in other metrics, then the achievements of students and of the College community suggest that the College’s reputation is in fine health.
The previous plan was undertaken under the premiership of the last provost, Dr John Hegarty, with the plan co-ordinated by Dr Patrick Prendergast in his role as the then vice-provost. The plan is notably self-conscious, acknowledging the economic circumstances in which it was written, as well as acknowledging the increasing demands on, and expectations of, universities.
College’s government funding is down 48% since five years ago, and in 2009 it was foreseen that these cuts were coming. Semesterisation was looming, as a result of the Bologna Process, and Trinity was looking outwards, emphasising internationalisation and globalisation, a theme which continues today. The student community now numbers 18,000 and that is likely to increase with the upcoming plan.
Some of the initiatives listed in the plan were achieved comfortably. The plan stated a desire to become a Green Campus, and to raise awareness of low carbon living. The green flag hoisted from the flagstaff in College Park, and the proliferation of recycling facilities and programmes shows a clear shift in attitude.
In the creative arts, the plan emphasised the role for Trinity to become a creative hub within Dublin. In the past five years, the formation of the Lir, the National Academy of Dramatic Arts, at Trinity’s Enterprise Campus on Pearse Street, is a concrete example of this ambition’s achievement.
The partnership established with the Royal Irish Academy of Music, whereby the Academy is now an associate college, is indicative of the quality of a Trinity degree and its relevance to the creative and performing arts.
Notions of “town and gown”, which exist in other university cities, are actively combated in the Strategic Plan.
The plan set clear aims for innovation in undergraduate education. Initiatives which are now well-established, such as the Blackboard Virtual Learning Environment, the modularisation of courses, and semesterisation, are all products of the previous plan. Other aspects of the plan’s aims for Trinity education are harder to measure.
The goal to increase the reputation of the Trinity PhD is an incredibly intangible goal, with many nuances and differences between departments, but it is still a laudable aim. The plan re-emphasised Trinity’s role as a research-led university, and successes in research mark Trinity apart from the other Irish universities. While rankings may have slipped, a top 100 university is still a comparatively impressive achievement, with a vibrant academic community being a positive result.
The plan’s goals to achieve greater flexibility within undergraduate programmes are yet to be manifested in any concrete initiatives, but the discourse surrounding this over the last five years clearly suggests that this is a long-term goal. The desire expressed in the plan for a much more accessible Trinity is something that the College can directly point to as having progressed significantly.
With the Trinity Access Programme’s graduates now numbering in the many hundreds, and with the successful pilot for a new admissions system having taken place this year, spearheaded by the last senior lecturer, Dr Patrick Geoghegan, Trinity is a much more diverse university than it has been historically, and while there are many groups still incredibly underrepresented, progress is clearly being made.
The new Business School is already well in the planning stages, for example, while the provost’s recent announcement at the Q&A last Monday of 2,000 new rooms in the city centre is a belated step in the right direction.
As far as student services are concerned, the plan emphasised the importance of society and club life, through the express ambition of the construction of a student centre. This ambition was to be partially funded by a levy voted down by students in a referendum in 2011, and the project saw a variety of setbacks with external funding. The original site, Luce Hall, is now earmarked for development of the new Business School.
In terms of capital expenditure, the significant achievements of the Long Room Hub and the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute are physical examples of the development of the College, while refurbishment of many student residences shows a concern for stewardship.
The plan’s long-term aims of a social sciences institute, an institute for preventative medicine and new student accommodation, may see a reassessment of priorities. The new Business School is already well in the planning stages, for example, while the provost’s recent announcement at the question and answer session last Monday of 2,000 new rooms in the city centre is a belated step in the right direction.
The role of College in Dublin city centre is one that all students and staff consider at one point or another. Notions of “town and gown”, which exist in other university cities, are actively combated in the strategic plan, and it is clearly one of the more achievable, and by extension, successful, aims.
Institutes like the Science Gallery, the Long Room Hub and the Douglas Hyde Gallery are permanent fixtures bringing Dubliners in to College, while events such as the European Space Expo, the Discover Research Dublin night, and society events like the Dublin Shakespeare Festival and MythFest have seen College take on a different life.
The notion of a strategy is something we can embrace, because even if we disagree with it, there is at least a direction. The previous report emphasised the consultative process which took place in drafting it. Indeed, when looking at the consultation process for the upcoming Plan, it’s hard to deny that the process is relatively transparent, particularly when compared to the panned process for the College rebrand. The plan buys into notions of accountability as a metric by which to judge the College’s performance and is the result of a lengthy and considered process.
It is for this reason that the last plan can broadly be considered a success, as its measures have required tacit or real support. The new plan, however, naturally has students worried. As fees increase and prospects are still unclear, and as a student housing crisis continues, we need some reassurance, and this is a chance for it to be offered.