Trinity is “under-ranked” compared to other universities, Provost Patrick Prendergast has said at an address to staff and students this afternoon. Prendergast has noted that this was his last “State of the College” address before his tenure ends in 2021.
Speaking in the Edmund Burke lecture theatre, Prendergast called Trinity’s drop in the rankings a “paradox”, allegedly due to the College’s recent achievements and initiatives. “I don’t really think that other universities round the world are achieving so much as to over-shadow our achievements. Rather, I believe we are under-ranked – it’s taking time for the rankings to catch up with all we’ve done,” he said.
He argued that the “reductive” view of what university ranking organisations “believe the role of a university is” is to blame for Trinity’s drop in the rankings in recent years. “The rankings don’t consider how a university is delivering on its strategy”, the provost asserted. He continued to say that the College’s mission to promote “a pluralistic, just, and sustainable society…is simply not measured by the rankings”. He listed Trinity Access Programme (TAP), and membership of the International Sustainable Campus Network as evidence that Trinity is perusing this aim, among other initiatives.
“By not even attempting to measure pluralism, sustainability, and active citizenship, the rankings are sending out a message about what they believe the role of a university is. And frankly, I think their view of a university’s role is reductive and doesn’t allow for the transformative power which a great university can have on its region, and on its graduates,” Prendergast said. “I’m confident that the Business School, E3, GCID, and other stand-out initiatives are going to help to reverse the decline,” he said.
As in his recent Annual Review, Prendergast addressed the Take Back Trinity protests, saying: “I don’t say I loved the student protests last year – I certainly didn’t love some of the tweets! But who could complain about students claiming Trinity as their own? Because it is. I don’t want to lead a university which doesn’t involve students in the way it’s run.”
The Provost also addressed the ongoing Brexit developments, referencing a recent visit to a British-Irish Association meeting. Noting his opposition to Brexit and conversations with Vice-Chancellors of other universities, he stated: “When you’re the university of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove… you have to ask yourself what kind of society are you running?”
After outlining his issues with the rankings, Prendergast addressed the College’s new Strategic Plan, which will begin in 2019. Introducing the topic, Prendergast said: “The Vice-Provost will lead on this, and one of the things I’ve learnt from Chris [Morash, Vice-Provost] is the importance of narrative. The Strategic Plan is a narrative, a narrative addressed to a wide audience, and it paints a picture of what we want the next five years to look like.”
As part of the Strategic Plan, Prendergast discussed the new Estates Strategy by the College Bursar, Veronica Campbell, which aims to make better use of College space and improve connectivity across Trinity. The Estates Strategy will also include the new E3 Learning Foundry building, which aims to deliver new approaches to teaching. As part of the Estates Strategy, new technology is also planned in order to complement attempts to make better use of Trinity’s existing physical infrastructure and better coordinate College’s finance and administration.
Prendergast then focused on Trinity’s future approach to research led by the Dean of Research, Linda Doyle. He described the values of the Research Excellence Strategy as diversity of research, developing a supportive research environment, and “using our collective expertise for the greater good and standing up for research”. The Provost emphasised the importance of making the most of existing resources to maximise research potential.
Prendergast placed philanthropy at the centre of this new strategy and described Trinity as “connecting alumni and friends to Trinity’s story” in order to encourage greater connection to the College and “create relationships across faculties and disciplines”. The Provost finished by stressing the new strategy attempts to foster community within Trinity as he believes “a strengthened internal community will connect to a more engaged global community.”
Following his address, the provost fielded questions from staff and students in the audience. The wellbeing of staff in the university system of Ireland is under “so much pressure” by government, he said in response to a staff member’s question on staff morale. “The workload expected with the resources available is unsustainable. This can be offset by local leadership in schools and departments.”
“We definitely have a challenge there,” Prendergast said to a question on whether the College’s focus on new initiatives lead to the neglect of failing infrastructure, posed by Sally Anne McCarthy, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Engineering, Maths, and Science Faculty Convenor. The Estates Strategy, expected to be published next week will lay out the extent of the challenge, he said, although there has been “significant refurbishment happening in student residences in fairness”.
The last time the Provost addressed students in an official setting was at a TCDSU Council in 2016/17, at which he fielded questions from students and representatives.