The Dual BA program and Trinity’s outreach abroad

A look at the ups and downs of Trinity’s most ambitious international partnership to date

In February of 2018, Trinity announced a new dual degree programme in collaboration with Columbia University in New York City. Dual BA programme participants pursue degrees as students of both universities, choosing between four courses – English Studies, History, European Studies, and Middle Eastern and European Studies. The first class arrived in Dublin in August of 2018, where they will remain until the completion of their second year. Following the summer, they will relocate to the Columbia campus in New York City for the remaining two years of their studies.

Trinity welcomed its second class of the Dual BA this past August. While this class counted about as many students as the first, Vice President of Global Relations Juliette Hussey expects the programme to grow gradually in coming years, as both universities prepare to accommodate a greater number of students. The programme is also set to increase the number of courses offered, introducing the options to pursue History of Art and Architecture, Classics, Film, Geoscience, and Neuroscience, in the next admissions cycle.

 “We’re very aware that it’s important to have global diversity in the classroom, so that the students have the opportunity to study alongside people from all over the world.” 

The Dual BA partnership is the fruit of Trinity’s ambitious partnering with universities and outreach abroad. “The Dean of Arts and Sciences in Columbia at the time we set up the program was actually a Trinity graduate,” Professor Hussey said. “He was here doing an external review of one of the schools at Trinity, and took the opportunity to bring the Dean of the School of General Studies over to meet with us.” In light of Columbia’s successful dual degree program with Sciences Po, a collaboration going into its 11th year, Trinity saw an opportunity to develop its own Columbia partnership. “It’s very attractive for both Columbia and Trinity, not just in this joint education offering,” Professor Hussey explained, “but also in the research collaborations it has led to.”

Though the Dual BA is Trinity’s most ambitious partnership thus far, Professor Hussey revealed there are a number of other collaborations already in the works. “They won’t all be dual degrees. Some might be joint degrees, so it will be one degree with input from the two universities creating this new entity…In terms of dual degree, [they are in the] very early stages and probably not that I can share at this moment”.

Underlying these university partnerships and other efforts to expand the university’s international reach, is a desire for diversity. According to Professor Hussey: “We’re very aware that it’s important to have global diversity in the classroom, and that the university is as diverse as possible in terms of its student intake, so that the students have the opportunity to study alongside people from all over the world.” The Global Relations office employs an on-campus student recruitment team, as well as a number of student recruiters positioned about the globe. These recruiters travel to education fairs and schools located primarily in the United States, but also in China and India. Social media and digital marketing are crucial tools in promoting the college year round.

Trinity is also working diligently to attract students from the regions least represented in the student body. Over the summer, the provost led two delegations to Africa to explore student recruitment opportunities and relationships with different universities. The first went to Morocco, and the second to Dar es Salaam, followed by Johannesburg, Cape Town and Nairobi. There is another visit to the region planned for next month. “We are working in that respect. We are small and we have a limited number of people here, so we can’t devote the same resources as of yet,” Professor Hussey said, but the college has ambitious plans for future diversification in these regions.

 “According to the college’s most recent report, international students account for 26% of the student body; in 2008, they accounted for only 16%.” 

What resources does Trinity employ to create a thriving global community when foreign students arrive on campus? The Global Room is a major one. “It’s really to celebrate all things international,” says Professor Hussey: “so you’ll see over the year that there’s been a number of events that have marked different cultural events across the globe.” The Global Room functions also as a “friendly” alternative to the Academic Registry, one more attuned to student concerns because it is staffed by fellow students.

Brendan Hogan, a second-year Middle Eastern and European Languages and Cultures student in the Dual BA, is one of 23 Global Room ambassadors who work at the student help desk. The ambassadors are trained to help international students at Trinity in a variety of ways. “Most of the time it’s about immigration, setting up a bank account. There will be questions about joining societies or renewing visas,” he said. “They ask us any question and if I don’t know the answer, then I refer to my manager and usually we get back to them pretty quickly, within a day or two.” 

The result of all this commitment to a diverse student body is visible in Trinity’s demographics. According to College’s most recent report, international students account for 26% of the student body. In 2008, they accounted for only 16%. The makeup of international students is becoming increasingly diverse. There are now nearly 3,000 Non-EU students at Trinity, triple the number in 2011.  

Americans account for 6% of students at Trinity, or one quarter of all international students – more than twice as much as the next foreign nationality, British. When asked about the large American population, Professor Hussey recounted a long history of US student interest in the college, particularly in the arts and humanities. “Why do they select Trinity? Many reasons. Tuition fees may be one aspect,” she said. She continued: “but I think they’re very discerning, they come for the quality of the education.” She thinks what is attractive to US students are multidisciplinary programmes, naming as examples, “European Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, PPES, BESS, as well as TSM, where the students have the opportunity to explore other subjects.” Trinity’s American student population continues to grow, with “increasing numbers going into the sciences.”

The Dual BA contributes to this growth, with Americans accounting for more than half of the programme’s inaugural class. The programme may be especially attractive to Americans due to its relative affordability, because Trinity’s tuition for non-EU students is still significantly cheaper than the norm for leading institutions in the United States – especially Columbia’s annual cost of $59,430. Despite the high number of Americans, the Dual BA includes students from across the globe with diverse ethnic and cultural identities. 

Among these students, the programme itself was a significant motivation in their decision to attend Trinity, if not the most significant. Trinity was attractive for its situation in Dublin and for its historical and literary significance, but the greatest draw for students was the opportunity to study in two major economic and cultural hubs. Orla, a French-Irish European Studies student from Paris, explained that: “You can experience perhaps a more traditional European education in Ireland, but then also the classic Ivy League experience in the US.” Location was particularly attractive to those studying world cultures and languages, with the diverse demographics of Dublin and New York facilitating engagement with many challenging perspectives. Brendan cited this quality as influencing his decision to pursue Middle Eastern studies. “If I were to study that in America, it would be taught in a different way than it is in Europe,” he said: “so it offers a different perspective than I am used to and will encounter at Columbia and elsewhere in the US.”

 “It’s kind of unheard of. The number of times I’ve had to explain what I’m doing, it’s quite funny. I think it will stand out on CVs because it shows not only that we were students of both universities, but that we did enough work in four years to achieve two degrees.” 

Dual BA members are hopeful their experience will prove an advantage in the job market, broadening their appeal across continents. They pointed to an increasingly globalised world where communication across cultures and borders is rapidly expanding, sped by immigration and the revolution in emerging technologies. Consequently, there is a high demand for communicators with an intimate knowledge of the complex, political and cultural relationships between nations. “Companies like to see that you have cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity,” Brendan said. 

The value of an international education, however, goes beyond any advantage in the job market. Clare, a MEELC student from Boston, cites lack of cultural exposure as a major issue among world leaders and influencing modern politics, particularly in the US. “I think that so many Americans don’t see the value of living abroad and don’t see the value of becoming more connected and understanding European politics and Middle Eastern politics and the histories behind them,” she said. “I think it’s harmful to [America’s] global standing when those are the people in power, who don’t understand the history behind different regions, it makes it hard to be smart about how you’re going to interact with [them].”

Those interviewed were hopeful that the uncommon nature of the programme might also prove a selling point. “It’s kind of unheard of,” remarked Jane, an English Studies student from Bray. “The number of times I’ve had to explain what I’m doing, it’s quite funny. I think it will stand out on CVs because it shows not only that we were students of both universities, but that we did enough work in four years to achieve two degrees.” Another English Studies student, Conor, from Hong Kong, agreed:I think it adds something to who you are as a person, and it should speak something to your character”.

What is the Dual BA doing well? “They have gotten all of us very close, and they have gotten us to interact with each other and rely on each other for whatever we need,” Brendan says. Daragh, a first year Irish-Cambodian History student, describes it as its “own little community within the greater Trinity family”. The Dual BA is certainly adept at facilitating friendships within the programme, organizing a number of student-bonding events that have thus far included a trip to Glendalough, trivia at the Pav, and céilí lessons. 

There are concerns, however, that the programme helps the formation of cliques, isolating students from the wider student body because a deadline of two years is imposed upon friendships outside the programme. For some, this seems indeed to be the case. Brendan’s friends are “for the most part” American and “also in the programme”. He explains: “I feel it was much easier being friends with them because we all knew we knew we were going to be together for four years.” However, Orla and Jane found they made friends just as easily outside the programme. Daragh acknowledges the need for friends in the programme, but says it won’t stop him from seeking friends outside of it.

Some Dual BA students also experienced issues with programme administration. First year students identified “a partial disconnect” between the two universities, with common queries regarding scholarships, study abroad, and requirements to receive credits remaining for long stretches unanswered, apparently because the administration itself was unsure. The details about a capstone project, likely to interfere with many students’ summer plans, have yet to be conveyed. Second year students reported many similar issues, particularly the lack of communication with students before arriving to Dublin. They reported receiving only four emails in that time, and were unprepared to navigate the purchasing of health insurance as well as to handle visas and immigration. There is concern that many of the issues identified by students of the inaugural class have yet to be solved.

This being the case, most students feel they have a strong voice among the administration and report “eagerness” from the administration towards dialogue with the students. Programme participants anticipated issues as the early classes of an ambitious new programme, and weighed them accordingly when applying. They are the “guinea pigs,” says Brendan. The first to try the process. While stressful, Orla claims “it’s exciting as well.” The input from their experience will inform the programme to better suit the needs of future dual BA students.

Though it’s only just begun, the Dual BA is important to Trinity’s strategy of diversifying the student body and widening the breadth of academic experiences available. As for students of the programme, they benefit from a unique global perspective that will serve them in their postacademic careers.