How Trinity changed this decade

Looking back at the changes that shaped Trinity in the last ten years

Trinity has undergone a tremendous amount of change in the past decade, and as we come to the end of 2019, it seems only right to reflect on the shake-ups that most affected staff and students in College over the last ten years.

Falls, funding and cuts

For many, the recent dramatic changes in Trinity, like its drastic fall in the world university rankings, have shaped their image of College in the last decade, however it’s just as relevant to look at the changes in leadership and funding that brought us to this place.

Relatively early in the decade, Trinity kicked off a new era by bringing its 44th provost, Patrick Prendergast, into office in mid-2011. With new leadership came new challenges and strategies for Trinity, and Prendergast insists that the blame for College’s steady tumble down the world’s rankings falls not with his administration’s tenure, but with insufficient state funding. In an Irish Times op-ed this year, Prendergast called for renewed cooperation with educational institutions for funding strategies, drawing comparisons to such revisions of strategies in other European countries. 

The burden of this lack of funding has fallen partially on students this decade, with campus accommodation costs skyrocketing, rising postgraduate and international fees and an increase to student contributions, despite successful protests against other attempted hikes such as the €450 supplemental exam fee proposed and withdrawn in 2018. College has also been forced to turn increasingly to philanthropic donations for funding, proposing in May of this year to raise €130 million over the following two to three years.

A changing campus 

These philanthropic endeavours have not gone without noticeable physical changes to Trinity’s campus. Along with the construction of the Martin Naughton E3 Learning Foundry, which will likely dominate the start of the next decade, College has invested in a number of substantial new buildings in the past ten years.

Alongside significant extensions to the Arts Building and a complete overhaul of the Nassau Street entrance to the college to complement the newly-opened Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity’s campus has become considerably more dense and ‘modern’-looking since 2010. Trinity’s Long Room Hub kicked off this decade of new developments in February 2010, welcoming increased research in the Arts and Humanities department. This was followed by the opening of Trinity’s Biomedical Science Institute in mid-2011, and continued all the way through to the complex saga of the construction of the Business School. 

Announced in College’s 2014 five-year plan for new investments, the new €80 million Business School didn’t open its doors until this year, after considerable and costly delays in demolishing the existing building, due partially to the concerns of the increasingly-important philanthropic donors. 

Education and TEP

Trinity’s biggest changes have of course been more than just physical, and education has been radically changed for its students this decade. Perhaps the most notorious of said changes is the Trinity Education Project (TEP), which stormed its way into effect in 2018, and its disruptions are still felt today.

TEP brought a number of new policies and a completely new academic structure to students’ lives, with the aim of providing a “more balanced workload”. Put simply, it meant that Trinity students would start earlier in the year, finish later, and would now sit Christmas exams alongside an increased focus on continuous assessment. 

The implementation of TEP was not quite as smooth for students as promised, though. It’s probably too soon to assess the whole program as a success or a failure; perhaps breaking Trinity’s 400-year exam tradition to bring us more in line with other universities isn’t a bad idea in theory, but in practise we can certainly say it’s off to a rocky start. The increased continuous assessment workload hasn’t taken much pressure off summer exams after all, and Christmas exams have only added another period of immense stress for students, alongside the RDS cloakroom frenzy, generally disorganised exams and the complete chaos of this year’s timetable. 

Technology, media and relations

Few advancements have altered Trinity life as drastically over the past decade as social media. Trinity’s newspapers have transformed from print periodicals to constantly updating online publications, with this newspaper reaching thousands through Facebook every week, ensuring students are more informed on the issues that affect them than ever before. Students have been able to coordinate and organise more quickly and efficiently, allowing campaign groups like Take Back Trinity, Students Against Fees and Aramark Off Our Campus to spread their message and rally support. 

When it comes to education, communication and collaboration have evolved too, with group project meetings turning into group messages, and study groups turning into note-sharing chats online. We’ve also firmly entered the golden age of memes in Trinity, evolving from early-2010s Facebook pages like Trinity College Memes to today’s trend-setters like Trinder, TCD Doggos, Trinity Truths and Trinity Collidge bringing the student community together. 

Growth, expansion and change

While we certainly should acknowledge College’s troubles and failures over the past decade, the end of the 2010s is also a time for optimism. Alongside the hurdles of TEP and the rankings drop, we should also cautiously acknowledge the positive strides made by Trinity towards becoming a more innovative and international university in the 2020s. 

Trinity’s place on the international stage has been consistent throughout the decade, welcoming more international students than ever, bringing in students and researchers alike from around the globe. Though those international students do certainly bring in higher fees, and are swiftly becoming a priority according to the provost’s recently-announced threats to cut Irish student spaces instead of international places if College does not secure more funding, they still make the college community more vibrant and diverse. In early 2018, Trinity announced its partnership with Columbia University for a series of Dual BA degrees, starting with Arts and Humanities but broadening its focus hopefully well into the decade ahead, alongside other such international partnerships. 

The aforementioned E3 Learning Foundry will likely be a primary focus for College early in the new decade with its substantial expansions both within campus and at Grand Canal Dock, though it remains to be seen if this will benefit students or just garner more investors. It’s tough sometimes not to be a bit cynical and see Trinity’s interests lying entirely with investments and capital, but the new decade will hopefully represent an upward turn for Trinity, both in its growth and in its care for its students in the decade ahead.

Eoin O'Donnell

Eoin O'Donnell is the current Leader Writer of Trinity News. He is a Senior Sophister History student, and a former Deputy Comment Editor and Deputy Investigations Editor.