Skip to main content

Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Trinity Menu Trinity Search



The Inaugural Speech of Dr Patrick Prendergast 44th Provost of Trinity College Dublin

YouTube: The Inaugural Speech of Dr Patrick Prendergast 44th Provost of Trinity College Dublin

The Public Theatre, Trinity College
Monday, 19 September 2011

Minister, Ambassadors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

Before coming into office as the 44th Provost of Trinity College Dublin, I made a formal declaration before the Board, as required by the College statutes. This declaration was first set into the Latin statutes of Trinity more than four centuries ago. I want to read it to you now, in English not in Latin, because I stand by the words of this declaration, and I would like to repeat them before everyone:

I, Patrick John Prendergast, on admission to the office of Provost of this College, solemnly declare that I shall faithfully observe the Statutes and all regulations lawfully enacted in accordance with them, and that so far as in me lies I shall see to it that they are observed by others; that I shall decide all matters equitably, without discrimination and without fear, favour or prejudice; that I shall be prudent and vigilant in conserving and promoting the interests of the College and its reputation for scholarship and sound education; and that I shall strive at all times to promote concord and amity among its members.

I’m struck by the continued relevance of these provostal commitments. Since the foundation of the College, what have been our core commitments? To develop the College’s reputation for research and scholarship, and to deliver sound education.
And what have been our core values? Equitable decision-making, prudent management of the College’s affairs, not succumbing to fear, and the promotion of concord and amity.

Trinity has delivered on these commitments and has stood by these values. Trinity’s global reputation as a leading university is something we are all proud of. In a tangible way, it enhances the standing of the whole country.
Because Trinity enjoys all the advantages of a strong tradition, fine buildings, world-famous alumni, and a location in the heart of Dublin city, it might seem that our success is pre-ordained; an entitlement.

But I don’t need to remind you that this university and this country have faced incredible challenges over the past four hundred years, and that nothing is pre-ordained. Trinity has risen to these challenges by a combination of stubbornness and adaptability: we have been stubborn about sticking to our values; we have been adaptable about the ways and means of delivering on our commitments.

Today, Trinity College, the whole education sector, and indeed the whole country, face particular difficulties. I don’t say that they’re the worst in four hundred years, but they’re bad enough, and they’re much tougher than I could have foreseen when I became Vice-Provost in July 2008. That was only three years ago. So much has changed, even since my election in April this year.

I want to talk about these challenges, and how we might meet them. And I want to reflect on the commitments and values that I’ve declared that I will uphold. I hope to show that it’s through applying an adaptable spirit to our age-old commitment to research, scholarship, and a sound education that we can best equip ourselves to surmount those challenges with confidence, and to do it with pride.

PERSONAL CONTEXT

Four centuries is a long time.  My ancestors were smallholders in Wexford, and little did they know that Cromwell was about to wreak havoc on the county. University didn’t feature in my extended family until my generation: neither of my parents nor any of their siblings attended university, but many of their children did. In my generation, there are graduates in music, engineering, medicine, education, commerce and many more fields. And we’ve been able to use this education to pursue interesting careers.

I remember, as if it were yesterday, being accepted for engineering in Trinity and my parents driving me up from our home village, Oulart, in County Wexford, to live with my aunt in Blackrock. I remember that sense of expectation, of new choices and new opportunities. It’s a feeling that I know many here today have also experienced, because I know my family is not unusual in Ireland. Since my generation, higher education has opened up opportunities for many, way beyond the experience of our parents or grandparents.

Access to university, based on aptitude and intellect rather than status or family position, is one of the great success stories of the twentieth century, in Ireland, as in many parts of the world. It remains a core value of all Irish universities.

THE WORK OF THE UNIVERSITY – 1. PUBLIC AND PRIVATE GOOD

Entering through Front Arch in 1983, I had a sense of expectation of what my education would deliver. The surroundings heightened my expectations: I expected my mind to open out, a bit like that view that appears as you walk through Front Arch and out into Front Square. To meet great people and to be equipped with the skills to pursue an interesting career and to lead a fulfilling life; I think those are every young person’s expectations. And not just young people: students are now coming to university at every age, to fulfil a new expectation, one for lifelong learning.

Such expectations, if fulfilled, confer an obvious private benefit on the individual.
You might say that higher education is in their self-interest. But what’s striking about a university education is that, as well as giving the individual potentially greater earning power, it also gives a valuable return to society at large. The graduate within the community provides indispensible expertise in areas that benefit the public good; education, medicine, law, the arts, business, science, and technology.

In short, higher education is not only a private good, but it’s a public good. I think recalling this duality, these twinned and inseparable benefits, helps us to understand our role as educators and to understand how higher education should be funded.

THE WORK OF THE UNIVERSITY – 2. SOUND EDUCATION

I want to look now at this concept of a sound education. What does ‘sound’ mean to us? It means solid, assured, unshakeable, in the right place.

We want to deliver a grounded education, one that readies our graduates for the volatile nature of the contemporary job-market and for the diversity of modern life. Such an education could indeed gear them towards getting a particular job, and satisfying a particular employer.  But if that is all we did as educators, we would fall short of our role of acting fully in the public good.

In her inaugural address, our Chancellor, Mary Robinson, asked: “Are our students to be taught to be mouthpieces of orthodoxy or critics of the system?” When things are going well, it can be tempting to mouth orthodoxies, since the orthodoxies seem to be working. But inevitably, sooner or later, we pay for such laziness and complacency. And in today’s uncertain world, it would clearly be irresponsible to turn out students only capable of regurgitating codified information, because the codes keep shifting.

If not codes and orthodoxies, what do our students need?

A recent Trinity survey of employer expectations showed that employers of our graduates value critical and independent thinking; excellent communication skills; and students who have developed a capacity for responsibility and initiative through extra-curricular activities.

The Trinity curriculum is strong in all these areas. On the extra-curricular front, I note that we now have over one hundred and fifty clubs and societies, from A to Z – that’s from ‘Anarchist’ to ‘Zoological’. We want our graduates to leave here genuinely transformed by their education, from what has happened both inside and outside the classroom. And so we aim at constructing a rigorous yet flexible curriculum that allows the student space to develop.

We don’t always get the balance right. Last week I got an email from a final year student. He was upset because he has classes scheduled for three evenings a week. He’s also a sporting club captain so this gives him a terrible choice: he can miss either half his lectures, or two thirds of his training sessions.

He wrote that he may have to consider his position as captain, though he considers this extra-curricular activity to be very important to his CV. He told me that he “finds it completely hypocritical of the College authorities to encourage extra-curricular activities such as sports, but then timetable fourth- year lectures in the evening when they know sports clubs train”.

I wrote back to tell him I agreed with him. This is clearly part of a wider problem. I’ve asked members of my administration to work with the Students Union, who I must say have been excellent on this issue, to ensure that problems like this don’t arise in the future.

We’re ambitious for our students and we want them to be ambitious for themselves. As this story shows, our ambitions sometimes come up against timetabling. But because we’re secure in our commitments, we’re not afraid to be self-critical, and we’re not afraid of changing the way we do things. In the ten years of my provostship, I hope to respond positively to reasonable demands for change and improvement.

I think it would be pretty hypocritical to demand creativity, innovation and initiative from our students, without displaying at least some of these traits myself.

As our most sardonic alumnus, Jonathan Swift, remarked: “A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying... that he is wiser today than yesterday”.
Students who are every day wiser than they were yesterday; students engaged in lifelong learning, who are sound in their foundations but not stuck in their opinions: that’s what we want. That’s who will reap most private benefit and who will sow most public good.

You don’t get these kinds of students by packing them into a huge lecture theatre with a lecturer holding forth at the pulpit. How can they learn to change their opinions if they’ve never had a chance to voice them in small, secure settings?
How can they rethink an experiment if they haven’t performed it themselves in the lab? How can they come to intellectual maturity, without the pastoral support of their teachers? And if they’ve never done primary research, how can they learn to see difficulties as opportunities?

THE WORK OF THE UNIVERSITY – 2A. RESEARCH-LED EDUCATION

I’d like to consider next how research drives sound education.

Like a lot of the world’s top universities, Trinity derives many of its educational principles from the late eighteenth- century German educationalist and founder of the University of Berlin, Wilhelm Von Humboldt. His idea of students actively engaged in research alongside their professors in a common enterprise of discovery has proved remarkably potent and influential.

Not all universities subscribe to Von Humboldt. There are universities where academics are divided into research streams and teaching streams. They may well deliver a fine education– it’s not for me to judge that – but it’s not the kind of research-based education that develops the strengths in critical enquiry that I’m talking about. Instead of a common academic enterprise of education and research, there is division and compartmentalization. How can students learn the value of critical enquiry unless they engage in research alongside their professors?

In many countries around the world, in Asia in particular, they are investing now to create some universities that deliver the kind of research-based education we have. Sometimes I wonder if we in Ireland really realize the value of what we have.  Are we prepared to throw it away?

The workload of the staff who strive to deliver this kind of education must be recognized. It requires dedication and commitment and is really not reducible to simplified measures. It’s easy to count lecture hours, less easy to quantify the one -to-one between student and professor that occurs during research projects.
How much time does it take to do a research project anyway?  It’s almost like asking how long is a piece of string. Anyway, it’s the results that matter, and that’s what we should be measuring. But instead, we’re focusing relentlessly on inputs. Just because outputs are harder to measure doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying. Because that’s how to assess the value of the education we offer.

THE WORK OF THE UNIVERSITY – 3. ADMISSIONS

The kind of research-based education I’m talking about is not for all, though it should be open to all. Let me speak for a moment about admissions.

Yes, we can develop creativity, initiative, and open-mindedness through the ways I have just outlined. But the student should display prior potential and aptitude in developing in this way, otherwise the process is pretty thankless for both student and professor.

My position on admissions is simple: I want the students with the most aptitude for the education we offer, regardless of their socio-economic background. Are we getting them? We’re getting a lot of them, I know. And we’ve done the right thing in creating the Trinity Access Programme which is a leader in opening up university education to those who would not otherwise access it. But, as a country, we have yet to devise a system efficient and subtle enough to match up all school-leavers to the right course, in the right university. I know that there are excellent students falling through the system, just as there are less suitable students sailing through, because they’ve been well-trained in what to give the examiners. This is really frustrating. It creates a downward pressure on the kind of education we’re asked to deliver.

But I’m preaching to the converted. I know that while there may be differences about how to reform, we’re all mostly agreed on the necessity of reforming the admissions process. I note the recent publication of the Hyland report. Like most educators, I welcome the attention it has generated. I congratulate the Minister for all he has done so quickly in this area. I look forward to next Wednesday’s HEA and NCCA conference. I’m confident that whether it’s through interviews, aptitude tests, contextual information or a combination of diverse enrolment paths we’ll be more successful in matching students to the courses which best suit their aptitudes and skills, recognising the diversity that can be achieved among this country’s universities and institutes of technology.

THE WORK OF THE UNIVERSITY – 4. ENGAGING WITH SOCIETY AND INNOVATION

I want to return to the topic of the public and private good, because I think our commitment to engaging with society has acquired a new resonance in recent times. Trinity engages with society in many ways, through student volunteering and public engagement of staff, and working together with our local community, but today I want to talk about our engagement through innovation.

University research is feeding into the economy more directly than ever before. The connection between high-tech companies, university research, and excellent graduates has become ever more important with each passing year.

I don’t normally throw around buzzwords but in this case I think it’s useful to employ the term ‘innovation ecosystem’. The biological metaphor is apt: it gets across the idea of different players, or organisms, interacting to sustain a flourishing environment. And because the word ‘delicate’ is often attached to ‘ecosystem’, it gets across how subtle this interaction is, and how the balance has to be right for economic growth.

The innovation ecosystem involves the public and private sectors; it involves individuals, enterprises, higher education institutions, and governmental bodies interacting in the right regulatory environment to create jobs and open up new opportunities. It recognizes that entrepreneurship is a private sector activity.

Here, in this country, we aspire to an economy where knowledge is turned into wealth – a so-called knowledge economy. When I talk about knowledge I don’t just mean knowledge in the scientific and technological sense. As long as you’re creating knowledge at a faster rate and to a higher level than your competitors, then you’re opening up opportunities for innovation, ultimately with the potential of creating jobs and wealth and improving society. Trinity’s latest institution, which will be officially opened shortly, is The Lir. It’s an academy of dramatic art, with courses for actors, playwrights, and directors. That’s all knowledge. That’s job-creating innovation.

Trinity is first and foremost about knowledge, and is therefore a key player in the innovation ecosystem. We’re the country’s leading university, and home to some of Ireland’s most ground-breaking research. We relish the responsibility that this position brings.

One of the ways in which Trinity is helping to grow the ecosystem is through our high-level graduate employment in the lynchpin companies of this economy.
An example of this is the SFI-funded CRANN Nanoscience Institute. It’s had fifteen of its research graduates recruited by Intel in the last six months. Actually, over half of CRANN PhD graduates ultimately go into industry. This recruitment of Trinity researchers by a global technology leader based in Ireland shows the different players within the ecosystem interacting. Among our spins-out, Havok has transformed the gaming and virtual worlds. Trinity genetics gave rise to Identigen, the 'traceback' technology which provides quality assurance to millions around the world. Havok and Identigen are just two Trinity spin-outs. There are many, many more that I could mention.

QUALITY IN JEOPARDY

In order to deliver its core mission, Trinity needs the resources and conditions to function to the best of its ability. Trinity, like other Irish universities, responded excellently to the increase in resources which it was fortunate to receive after 1995. In the boom years the expenditure in Irish third level education almost doubled. And, as a result, the number of students entering Irish universities also almost doubled. The response of the sector was tremendous.1 In Trinity’s case this was accompanied by a phenomenal rise, building on centuries of achievement, to international prominence in the university rankings:  43rd in the world in 2009.

43rd. No other Irish institution, public sector or private sector, ranks anywhere near as high in its global category. To put the figure in context, we have just one Irish-owned company in the Fortune 500, which is currently at 428.

Trinity is a great Irish success story. The whole higher education sector is a great Irish success story. Irish graduates are appreciated the world over.

However global competition is not static. And it seems as though everyone has caught on that investment is now the key to a flourishing university sector. Investments made through private fees and public funds in many countries are currently greatly outpacing us. Of course, like everyone, I appreciate that there is a financial crisis in this country - which I will come to in a moment. But I do feel that there may be a resistance to the idea of spending money on universities which goes deeper than the immediate crisis.

Even at the height of the boom, even after the doubling on expenditure which I’ve just mentioned, the total spend on a student in an Irish university was still only at the OECD average, and well below the EU average. In 2008, Ireland ranked 10th in the 12 EU countries that supplied data in terms of expenditure per student over the course of a degree. Why was funding per student so low, even at the height of the boom?

To answer this question, you may want to look at the ratio of public to private expenditure. In 1995 we had a ratio of 70 per cent public to 30 per cent private. In 2007 it was 85 per cent public to 15 per cent private. I think we are the only OECD country to have decreased private contributions during those years of global expansion.

Another thing we may want to re-examine is the way we fund. At the moment, payment to universities is based on the division of a fixed pot. The amount each university gets depends on how many students all the other universities enrol. There is no direct measure of quality, or indeed assessment of the degree of subvention needed for a particular course. It’s only about numbers, so much so that one commentator talks about ‘headage’ payments. Herding in students without knowing, or even caring, whether we have enough resources; is that really what we want? It’s not even what we want for our sheep. If we want to think in terms of quality, not quantity, then that should be reflected in the way we fund. 

But I appreciate that this huge increase in student numbers happened very rapidly. We’re still thinking through the repercussions. Many in the sector now perceive the need to reform the funding model.

I welcome, as I’m sure everyone here today does, the increased access of Irish students to university education. Opening up a Trinity education to more students is an achievement. But it’s not an achievement if what they’re getting isn’t actually a Trinity education.

When I first started lecturing here in 1995 I supervised three final year project students each year and I was able to spend significant time with each student. My colleagues in mechanical engineering now have eight or more such students, plus more Masters and PhD students than we had in 1995. Of course it’s great to have more PhD students but it’s not great if we can’t give them the time they need, or if we’re doing it at the expense of time with undergraduate students.

If we take on more students we need to take on more staff and have more resources available to run the courses. Unfortunately the opposite has happened. Funding per student has been reduced year on year for the last three years.
And what has been the result? An unfortunate slipping down the global ranks for Ireland’s top universities. A few weeks ago Trinity got its new ranking: 65th in the world. We have fallen 22 places since our height. The metrics are unequivocal: we do not now employ enough academic staff, by international standards, for the number of students we have.

It is not a great feeling to fall out of the top 50, though actually this drop is not as bad as it might have been because of our continued reputation among employers and the worldwide standing of our academic staff. But we can’t rely for long on past reputation in such a fast-changing world, where, for instance, Nanyang Technological University ( NTU) in Singapore shot up the ranks to overtake us this year,  although it was only founded twenty years ago. I am afraid that some high- tech employers have already begun to question the quality of our graduates.

Even if you’re not the worrying type, you should start worrying now. Our national strength as an educational hub is in jeopardy. We have no right to mortgage future generations by dodging this issue; they will not thank us. And we have no right to prevent those who want a high quality education from paying for it if they can afford to do so. The reality is that if the best students can’t get a top quality higher education here, they will go abroad for it, and they would be right to do so.

THE GOVERNMENT’S DILEMMA AND WHAT WE CAN DO FOR THE GOVERNMENT

We recognise the significant capital investments of recent years. But the recurrent investment is below average. And we cannot continually eke out resources without prospect of renewal. There needs to be a plan for sustainability. The time has come to stop eking and to start investing in order to bring our spend up to the level of other countries.

To quote one of the most brilliant of all Trinity alumni, Edmund Burke, whose statue looks out from Front Arch to College Green: “Mere parsimony is not economy. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy”.

I acknowledge the government’s dilemma here. Of course I do. We all do. And the engineer in me wants to propose a solution. My position on tuition fees is well known by now. Inevitably, it sometimes gets reduced to simplistic headlines, but I don’t think this issue is simple. The introduction of fees is a matter for the utmost consideration. We are currently working on a proposal about how private contributions can be increased. We’re examining dual track funding and looking carefully at models in other countries, including Australia and China, where such funding models are used. We look forward to sending this proposal to the HEA.

Another area to focus on is flexible innovation, or improved interaction within the innovation ecosystem. There are those who would have us quit R&D expenditure in universities because the payback is not rapid enough. I think this is a mistake born of impatience and lack of confidence. Turning research into wealth requires sustained development. How do we do this better? I don’t have the answer to this question, but there are many here in this audience who do. Some of them have contributed to the Innovation Taskforce Report. It’s critical that we listen to them so that innovation can flourish here, as in other locations of the world.
Funding for research helps pave careers for our young people in the knowledge -intensive industries of the future. Yes, such funding is a bet on the future. But given the smartness and competitive ability of our young people, it’s a safe bet.

I’d like at this point to say a word about philanthropy, because it’s widely recognised that philanthropy propels us to excellence in many areas. Some of our generous benefactors are here today, and I thank them on behalf of the College.
All around Trinity, in our buildings and in our research projects, there is evidence of your generosity. I know that Trinity means something unique to each of our alumni, and that many are willing to contribute to its continued greatness. I look forward to the growth of philanthropy as an investment arm for Irish universities. But philanthropy cannot in itself solve systemic underfunding. It cannot plug a hole left by insufficient private and public funds.

Another area which may help with the investment dilemma is inter-institutional collaboration. The HEA-led initiatives in this regard have been excellent and have added to the sector tremendously, in shared-services, and in procurement, for example. But the pace of change is incredibly fast. Sometimes the goalposts do move, and what we’re now seeing is the emergence of higher education as a globally traded and borderless activity. Staff, students, and research projects are increasingly switching countries and institutions, going to where the money and expertise is. This has created a wonderful energy and dynamism in the sector. But it’s a big change, which we must learn to meet with creativity and adaptability.

Thanks to the HEA, we now have excellent collaboration across the island of Ireland, which has allowed us to embark on ambitious research projects, such as TILDA, the Trinity-led Irish research initiative on ageing. But let’s have national priorities relating to global networks. Let’s build links beyond this island. Ireland is fortunate in its global reach: our well-connected graduates are found all over the world; our academics keep up constant contact with their colleagues in other countries; our embassies raise our profile and keep our contacts up to date.
I think we should now be turning our attention to global academic networks, and using them to add value to what we do, rather than just national networks.
But if we want to do this effectively, we need to release some of the constraints acting on higher education. To compete globally, I need to have flexibility and decision-making powers, the same flexibility that other presidents of leading universities can count on, particularly with regard to hiring and promotions.
At the moment, I need to get permission for what I do.

There’s a current national tendency towards increased regulation. I understand why. Certain institutions behaved irresponsibly, even disgracefully, during the boom. Of course we want to regulate such behaviour. But heavy regulation is not a panacea, nor an infallible doctrine. There are many examples we can choose from, in the energy or telecoms sectors, where deregulation has improved service provision and stimulated growth.

I would suggest that the government does not need to shelter us within the framework of a nationally-regulated system, but could instead open us up to competing globally. Trinity cannot compete for Ireland on the world stage with our hands tied behind our backs. Too much constraint and sheltering removes choice,  and if you remove all risk, you limit the opportunity for success. To quote Oliver Goldsmith, who also looks out onto College Green:

“To aim at excellence, our reputation, and friends, and all must be ventured; to aim at the average we run no risk and provide little service”.

As a matter of fact, we want nothing more than to venture and pit ourselves against other universities of our standing, no matter where they are on the globe.

Let me stress that insofar as regulation ensures accountability, I welcome it. It’s when regulation threatens to emasculate decision-making that I feel the need to cry halt. If government can regulate in terms of outputs, and leave universities to deploy resources to best effect for the education of our students, then universities can prosper as employers, and act as an inward focus for students to come from abroad.

If this could happen, Irish universities delivering quality education to large numbers of students could be big creators of jobs. But in this country, we have twisted ourselves into a position where we are forcing universities to shed jobs rather than create them. It doesn’t make sense. Why aren’t we turning Ireland into an educational hub?

Increased regulation is inversely proportional to trust. We are currently suffering a chronic lack of trust, and so the Pavlovian response is to demand more regulation.
But we’ve got to get trust back into the system. Ireland cannot prosper without it. Nothing flourishes in a climate of fear and suspicion. Trust is linked to accountability. Institutions worthy of trust are happy to be held accountable for their decisions. This is where I think Trinity can help restore trust because we are very strong on accountability.

Remember that Burke’s emphasis was on “true” economy. He was the most accountable of people, the least inclined to excess or corruption. Following the logic of his position, I believe that in this particular situation he would wish, as I wish, to ensure that fees are kept as low as is compatible with high quality in education and achievement in research. As the head of a university I need to be able to put my hand on my heart and say that all monies, both public and private, are used to best effect in the education of our students. I absolutely realize the important role that the government of the people has in this.

I want to be held accountable. “Come fix upon me your accusing eye. I thirst for accusation”.  I want the government to point its accusing finger at me and demand: “Are you spending the money properly?” – “Are you spending it properly, relative to the quality of your outputs, by international standards?” I know we can be confident about our accountability and I know we’re worthy of trust because during the now notorious boom years, Trinity behaved responsibly. We didn’t lose the run of ourselves. We adhered to our age-old values of prudence and vigilance. And we will continue to do so.

The Trinity Give

One of my predecessors in office liked to call Trinity ‘a small republic of letters’. This conveys its cohesive identity. It’s a community of 16,740 students and 3,300 staff. Almost half of Trinity’s academic staff are citizens of other countries, and the majority, like me, have studied or worked in other countries. We are global, but local too; Trinity is part of all our identities.

Trinity operates within a global academic commonwealth, an increasingly borderless entity which is removing all barriers to the free flow of people and ideas. I would like to see Trinity taking full advantage of and trading vigorously within this entity.

I think, as academics, we’d all like to say, with Erasmus: ‘Ego mundi civis esse cupio’; ‘I long to be a citizen of the world’. Erasmus certainly lived this citizenship. He was associated with Paris, Louvain, Oxford, Basle, and of course, Rotterdam, where I did a sabbatical.

Ego mundi civis esse cupio. But Trinity is also, proudly, a part of this country, this city, this neighbourhood. For the past few weeks I’ve been immersed in McDowell and Webb’s history of Trinity. That’s partly to learn more about the university which was good enough to elect me. It’s also, of course, in homage to the great R.B. McDowell, who died recently, aged 97, and at whose funeral I was privileged to speak.

What I’m most enjoying about their book is the constant interplay, the to-and-fro, between the internal processes of the College, and the animation and agitation beyond its gates. I think the authors intended to concentrate on the ‘small republic of letters’ and to keep Irish politics at bay, but found that they couldn’t. At one stage, writing of the mid -nineteenth century, they apologize for ‘straying for too long from our main theme, the College as a centre of education and scholarship, and devoting too much space to political, religious and constitutional issues’.  But, they note: ‘for over a decade these were [in fact] the major preoccupation of the Fellows’.

To anyone who feels I have strayed too far from education and devoted too much time to matters political and financial, I can only make the same excuse:
it’s a major preoccupation, and it’s unavoidable. All universities interact with the body politic in which they’re situated. But not that many are as embedded as is Trinity in the life of their capital and their country.

It takes about three minutes to walk from the Nassau Street Gate to Leinster House. What happens in Ireland affects Trinity and, ultimately, what happens in Trinity affects Ireland. That’s the symbiosis which McDowell and Webb couldn’t escape, and which I don’t want to escape. It’s what gives me the right, I think, to talk about trust and accountability, because when things go wrong, we are all affected. Equally Trinity’s accountability, excellence in research, and international standing, can be a key component of how we regenerate the whole country. When I think of Trinity performing vigorously within the global academic commonwealth, I know that it’s playing for Ireland on the world stage.

A university which admits some of Ireland’s best students based on merit and aptitude; a university which develops them through research and sound education; a university which knows it can count on public support, because it serves the public good; a world-class university which plays for Ireland on the world stage;  that is what I aspire to for Trinity. That is what I became Provost to do. If I may repeat the words of my declaration, “so far as in me lies” - that is what I will dedicate the next ten years to achieving.

Thank you very much.

* * * * *

1The actual figures are 57,090 in 1995, and 96,436 in 2010.

See addresses mainpage