Delving into the record receipt for Trinity’s consultancy costs

College spend €2.8 million on external consultants to “change management”, during critical period of budget cuts for student services.


Final figures on Trinity College’s external consultancy fees, released earlier this month, show that the university spent €2.8 million to “change management”, over  €2.1 million on financial and information systems, and over €91,000 on new graphic profile, during the three year period 2012/13 to 2014/15.  The figures were released under the Freedom of Information Act, and first published in The Irish Times. The amount Trinity spent on “change management”, €2.8 million, was the largest sum any university in Ireland paid to one specific external consultancy company during this time period, the recent investigation show.

The recipient of the record sum of €2.8 million was consultancy company Clarion Consulting, which assisted College with rearranging administrative services. A total of €2,139,049 was paid to British consultancy company Deloitte for help with new financial and student information systems. The sums follow Trinity’s recent year trend of increased consultancy emphasis and expenditure.

In correspondence with Trinity News, Pat Millar, Managing Director at Clarion Consulting, commented on the figures: “The figures quoted cover a three year period. Many organisations engage external consultants on large change programmes. Using consultants gives access to additional resources, experience and expertise and helps ensure success and reduce risk when dealing with complex change.”

During the three year time period, it also became more expensive to study at Trinity and student organisations received less funding. Between the academic years 2012/13 and 2014/15, the student contribution fee was increased by €500, from €2,250 to €2,750 per year. Since then it has continued to rise, with the current fee being €3,000.  In addition to this, repetitive cuts in student services were enforced throughout the period. A 3.75% budget cut in 2013 and a 5% cut in 2014 decreased the funding to the Central Societies Committee (CSC), Dublin University Central Athletic Club (DUCAC), the Graduate Students Union (GSU), Trinity College Students’ Union (TCDSU) and Trinity Publications. Funding is however predicted to increase to some extent again over the next three years, on a per-student basis.

At Trinity, Clarion Consulting has for example been closely associated with the Academic Registry, conducting the Academic Registry Enhancement Programme. This programme is being launched in three phases during 2015, and strive to, to quote the programme website, “develop the Academic Registry and ensure that it can provide the services required to support the student lifecycle” and to enable the university to grow by making sure that the academic registry could cope with a possible increase in number of students. The director of the programme is Millar himself. Four of the 14 leads the project are consultants from the company. The remaining ten positions are occupied by members of the Academic Registry together with Aideen Long, Dean of Graduate Studies.

“The programmes Clarion has been involved with in Trinity are designed to improve services, systems and processes. The changes made in these programmes have a very positive impact on the university and benefit existing and future students,” Millar said to Trinity News.

Clarion Consulting is an Ireland and United Kingdom based consultancy company, with focus on business and IT. According to their website, the company helps their clients to “manage business transformation, improve organisational agility and build competitive advantage.” The company has previously worked with both public and private enterprises such as AIB, DHL, The Irish Times and PepsiCo. Paul O’Callaghan, PepsiCo Chief Information Officer of Worldwide Technical Operations, has previously commented on the collaboration with Clarion Consulting: “We greatly value the contribution made by Clarion in helping us to achieve greater transparency and operational control of key organisational projects.”

British Deloitte has a history of working with universities in the United Kingdom and the United States. In their 2015 UK report “Making the grade”, the company identifies the key issues faced by modern higher education institutes as centered around the themes of globalisation, cost, student expectation, technology, estates, talent and research. Julie Mercer, Global Industry Leader for Education at Deloitte writes: “Over the past four years our Education practice has helped Universities and other Higher Education Institutions address the challenges set out in this [“Making the grade”, 2015] report and we, at Deloitte, remain committed to continuing to help providers succeed in an increasingly competitive global market”. The company has also released a “Reimagining higher education” report, focusing on higher education in the United States. The report emphasises the impact of technology on higher education, claiming that it will change the education scene fundamentally “just as iTunes, Netflix, the Kindle, and other innovations have disrupted the music and media industries”.

In 2014, mixed reactions were vowed when the university paid €91,786 to consultants at Irish graphic designer bureau Huguenot for redesigning the college crest during the so called “Trinity Identity Initiative”. The need for the rebranding was heavily discussed. Removing the repeated “Dublin” and the bible from the logo was met with criticism at the time, and forced the bureau to redesign the proposed crest to what it looks like today. The controversial sum also generated campus interest, and sparked discussions as well as a page on Facebook where students could submit their very own redesigned crests (some more creative than others).

During the discussed period, TCDSU has on occasion spoken out against the university’s high consultancy expenditures. Back in 2014, Tom Lenihan, SU president at the time, encouraged students to participate in a, later cancelled, library sit-in where the online event description read: “It is time for us to take a stand against a university that has skewed their priorities and locked out students from decision making processes. We do not want €3.71m being spent on consultants or €100,000 being thrown at a rebranding exercise. Students want services and supports. It is time to stop the suffocation of student life.” Trinity News invited TCDSU to comment on the newly released figures. TCDSU has not done so.

In comparison to other universities, Trinity is found in the upper quartile of consultancy expenditures. UCD for example spent €185,914 on external consultants during the same time period, but also had a much more limited definition of what consultancy meant in their accounting methods, leading to the final numbers being possibly pushed down. Over all though, Ireland’s seven universities together claim they spent over €24 million on consultancy fees during the three year period. The Higher Education Authority has not opposed this, and claim that will not do so as long as the expenditures can be defended by the value obtained from the money spent.

Already in 2014, media focused was turned towards Trinity’s consultancy costs. British newspaper The Sunday Times reported on skyrocketing numbers in the university’s expenditure on consultants, claiming that there had been a 144% increase in the payments from College to consultancy companies between the years 2012 and 2013 under the watch of Provost Patrick Prendergast. During Prendergast’s first year at Trinity, 2011, the budget for consultants came out to a total of €793,000. In 2013 the final bill landed on €3.71 million.

Regarding the transparency of the economic figures, according to The Irish Times, Trinity has been relatively open with its consultancy fees and could show figures upon request within weeks. For other universities it took as much as four months to present a final number.

In a statement to Trinity News College press officer Caoimhe Ní Lochlainn  said that payments to Deloitte and Touche were “chiefly linked with the provision of professional resources covering project management and accounting relating to the implementation of a new Financial Information System and IT resources relating to the implementation of the Student Information System.”  Ní Lochlainn further added that the  cost of the new visual identity…was non-exchequer funded.”

Deloitte and Huguenot were not available for comment

Clarification 30/11/15 15:46: Updated to show comment from Caoimhe Ni Lochlainn