Patrick Prendergast: Waiting in the wings

By Laura Twomey

Elections are a contentious business, but one election that will certainly be going ahead next year will be that of Provost to our very own college.

Professor Patrick Prendergast has emerged as an early favourite for the job. Since publicly declaring his candidacy back in October, he has returned to his office in the Parsons Building, where he is Professor of Bioengineering, having spent two years in the role of Vice Provost.

I wanted to find out his motivations for declaring his candidacy. Did Prendergast possess the experience, academic standing and drive to undertake the role, in an environment of economic hardship and the ever-present danger of slipping academic standards?

What was left in no doubt was Prendergast’s loyalty and commitment to Trinity, and what could be better for a potential Provost to possess than these attributes? He said one of the highlights of his undergrad experience was when he moved into Botany Bay. “It gave me a real sense of community to live there,” he recalled. “It was the real campus experience, to live and learn together with others.” A mechanical engineering undergrad, he went on to complete his PhD here.

No doubt one of the most fascinating and aspects of Prendergast’s background is his extensive and illustrious academic experience abroad. His first experience abroad, having won a Council of Europe scholarship, was the university of Bologna. No doubt it was a formative experience, being his first taste of continental academia and Italian cuisine at one of the oldest universities in the world.

Sabbatical opportunities then followed in Poland, Rotterdam, Warsaw, Barcelona, and Rotterdam. Yet it was his experience at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands that shaped much of his views on the delivery of graduate education. “There, I encountered research of the highest international standard.”

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Prendergast brought home to Trinity his experience of the Dutch model of conducting intense four year postgraduate programmes. “It was pushing open a door, and all staff were very positive – it was a revolution in Irish graduate education.” His appointment as Dean of Graduate Studies in 2004 was the perfect role for Prendergast to continue changing the face of postgraduate studies. This culminated in a great success for Prendergast in the opening of the Innovation Academy, along with UCD.

When asked about the subject of becoming Provost, he was quietly confident in his abilities. “I’m enthused by the challenge of leading the University, ensuring it maintains and improves standing in the global arena.” He claims he will continue to emphasise research-led teaching if he gets the position. Prendergast also did not shy away from inheriting the problem of restructuring. He admits problems so far have been to do with indecision, “Trinity needs to focus back on what matters – education and research. Staff are enthusiastic and will find a way to work within a new structure, but consistency is needed.”

I broached the contentious subject of fees, and thankfully was met with a refreshingly honest answer. “The payment of a tuition fee, so long as it is not so high that it causes difficulties for students, I think it’s reasonable, but it needs to be introduced at the same time as a loan scheme, or some other grant system for students that don’t have the means to pay themselves.” He added that, “We must keep the ability to offer high quality education. Low quality education doesn’t benefit anyone.”

A supporter of student activism, he welcomed the USI student march, stating the Government should not be let off the hook, and that “the march was the right thing to do”. If he were to become Provost, he says that he would welcome a frank discussion with students on the subject of fees.

Prendergast clearly has a vision for Trinity, one of achieving academic excellence across all faculties, climbing the world rankings and keeping the aspects that make it special. He boasts the CV, ability and enthusiasm to be a real contender in the race for 1 Grafton Street.

Such a positive attitude and belief in the massive potential Trinity has boiling under it’s palladian façade is much needed in any potential Provost. What’s needed now is a visionary with a wealth of experience, and it seems we may not need to look much further than the bioengineering building.