Launch of the Grattan Scholars Programme
Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin
Thursday, 27 September 2012
Thank you, James, for your kind introduction;
And welcome, everyone, to the Trinity Long Room Hub for the launch of the Grattan Scholars Programme, and to introduce our two inaugural Grattan scholars, Christina Kingham and Sara Mitchell.
The Grattan Scholars Programme is an initiative of the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy. This School combines the departments of Philosophy, Economics, Political Science and Sociology. It’s in the nature of these disciplines to ask the vital questions - like how can we make better use of our resources; improve quality of life; adjust our economic and political systems to take account of changing circumstances?
These are issues of public concern and this School is committed to placing its expertise at the service of public debate and discourse. It is one of the crucial ways that universities like Trinity serve the public good.
Some of the best public lectures in Ireland are organised by this School’s Policy Institute and I was lucky enough to attend earlier this year the ‘Henry Grattan Public Lecture on the End of the European Project’, which included on the panel, Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister. It was an event electrifying not only for the quality of the speakers but for the no-messing, to-the-point replies of Mr Fischer to testing questions from the audience.
And now, after the Grattan Public Lecture, we have these Grattan Scholarships.
The School is rightly celebrating Henry Grattan, the only Irish politician - and indeed the only Trinity alumnus - to enjoy the accolade of having a phase of parliamentary history named for him. ‘Grattan’s parliament’ operated, as you know, from 1782 to 1800. It sat across the street from the College, in what is now the Bank of Ireland.
Grattan is famous as a constitutional parliamentarian, vigorous in his demands for legislative independence and Catholic emancipation. The great Trinity historian, R.B. McDowell, who wrote Grattan’s biography, said of Grattan “that his speeches were infused with fire and drive, imaginative, often tinged with emotion, they are a rethorical expression of the Romantic movement... His opinions reflect the outlook of an ardent, independent and intelligent Whig in an era of vehement controversy, great wars, and rapid change”.
So these Grattan scholarships - which seek to advance cutting-edge social science research and teaching - are well-named for this brilliant communicator, who took on the big issues of his day.
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Today’s issues are, of course, different in kind, but they still come under the heading of what Professor Peter Simons, Head of School, has called “economic, political, social and even moral problems”. The School is committed to researching solutions to such problems, and to ensuring that the thinking that goes into the research has consequences for public debate.
Our two inaugural Grattan Scholars are working in diverse areas: Christina Kingham is looking at micro-enterprise growth and expansion, and Sara Mitchell is researching the geographic clustering of creative workers. Both will add greatly to our knowledge of their respective areas of Development and Cultural Economics.
Christina and Sara will also be participating in academic life as teachers. This School is particularly dedicated to excellence in teaching. Indeed Dr Eleanor Denny, assistant professor in Economics and director of Undergraduate teaching in the School, is the winner of the inaugural European Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences and Humanities.
We’re very proud of Eleanor. Trinity does not believe in compartmentalising teaching and research. We are instead committed to students and staff working together recognising that in all leading universities education and research are welded together into common academic enterprise.
This kind of education requires dedication, commitment, and resources. Two weeks ago the World QS University Rankings was launched from this university. It was great to host such a prestigious launch and it’s great that Trinity is still highly placed, but, as you probably know, for the past few years we have been slipping down the rankings from a height of 43rd. This is due to the funding crisis. Staff to student ratio and research capability are among the key indicators for the rankings.
Through building up a cohort of exceptional PhD student-teachers, the Grattan Scholarships will help Trinity maintain excellence in research and teaching.
At this particular time of cutbacks in state funding, these scholarships are hugely welcome. Increasingly, universities like Trinity will have to rely on such innovations to fund high quality education. Earlier today I was before the Public Accounts Committee of the Dail, where I think members were surprised to learn that such non-exchequer monies now accounts for 47% of Trinity revenue.
So I want to take this opportunity to thank, most warmly, the UK Trust for TCD who have generously provided funding for our first two Grattan scholarships. Unfortunately John Pearson and Rupert Pennant-Rea of the UK Trust cannot be with us this evening, but they have made possible Christina and Sara’s vital research. John and Rupert provide a wonderful model of alumni giving, and of that lifelong relationship with the alma mater which we hope to develop in all our alumni.
I’ve been talking about the funding crisis but today is a day of celebration. The Grattan Scholarships show that even in difficult periods, solutions can be found through the commitment, flexibility, and dynamism of individuals and institutions. This positive approach to challenges is a hallmark of this School... as it was of Henry Grattan. Daniel O’Connell said that Grattan was
“that old patriot who had given Ireland all she had and would have made her all she ought to be”.
I trust that Christina and Sara, and all those Grattan scholars that will follow you, will, like Grattan himself “make of Ireland all she ought to be”.