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"Entrepreneurship-Innovation-Research: the education mission at Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin"

Vietnam National University (VNU), Hanoi

06 July2015

Good morning,

It’s a pleasure to be here in Hanoi and an honour to have this opportunity of addressing you. Today I’ll be talking about entrepreneurship, innovation and research in higher education, with reference to the university of which I lead – Trinity College, the University of Dublin. It’s a university with many alumni here in Vietnam, including Deputy PM Hai and Vice-Minister Huong.

When we talk about a university’s ‘mission’, what do we mean? We mean the roles and purposes which a university takes on itself. Not all universities take on the same roles – their missions vary. For instance, there are universities which focus on just one discipline, like engineering or social sciences. And then there are universities, like mine, which are multi-disciplinary and have missions in research-inspired education, innovation, and entrepreneurship, and which have a global orientation as opposed to serving a regional or purely local need.

Those of us who work and study in universities are fortunate to be part of one of the most exciting movements in the history of university education: the movement towards entrepreneurship and innovation becoming integral to the university’s mission in education and research.

Let me put this in context: when I was an engineering student in Trinity College Dublin in the early 1980s, I was aware of receiving a very good education. And I knew my professors were engaged in valuable research of international importance. But there was a feeling of the university being “self-contained” - though I am more aware of in retrospect then I was at the time.

Around the time I was finishing my PhD, all this had started to change. Trinity’s first spin-out, or campus company, appeared in 1986. Later, as a post-doc and young lecturer in the 1990s and 2000s, I was involved in working with the new medical devices industry in Ireland. This was ground-breaking in a number of ways:

  • Firstly, it was interdisciplinary – it brought together engineers with health sciences, including doctors and phsyiotherapists, to address the needs of people with physical injuries and other health problems.
  • Second, it was inter-institutional and international. Researchers from different universities and different countries were collaborating to increase the impact of research. 
  • Thirdly, it was, from the outset, a flagship for industry-academic collaboration. Researchers worked with businesses to commercialise, and products were brought to market in record time. This was to the advantage of patients, obviously, but also of academics. There is nothing more exciting than seeing your research improving people’s daily lives.

This drive towards innovation, entrepreneurship and global collaboration, which began in the 1990s, has now become more important, as universities understand the opportunities available to grow and apply research, and to grow and apply new educational developments.

Universities have always been instrumental to a country’s prosperity. If you look through history, you find that at every stage, successful countries have successful universities.

But what has happened in the past two decades is that universities are now contributing to growth and competitiveness more directly than ever before.

And thanks to this new emphasis on innovation they’re adding a new dimension to their contribution to the public good: they’re creating opportunities for the leaders and entrepreneurs which society needs.

The Chancellor of the University of California has said that, in the 21st century ….

“the great engine for growth of our society is going to be the university” .

How will this happen? I don’t have all the answers, obviously, but let me tell you about some of the things that my university, Trinity College Dublin, is doing.

* * *Trinity College Dublin: pivotal to Irish growth * * *

Trinity College is a research university in the heart of Dublin, Ireland’s capital city.

Here are some of the key stats about Trinity at a glance:

  • We’re ranked 71st in the world, and 25th in Europe
  • A third of our staff, and a quarter of our students come from outside Ireland, and these figures are always going up.
  • We’re a 400-year old institution. We were founded by charter by Queen Elizabeth the First in 1592.

We’re a multidisciplinary university. We have three faculties – in

  • Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences;
  • Engineering, Maths and Science; and
  • Health Sciences

 – here are some of our schools and departments:


We encourage our Schools and Departments to collaborate on research. We believe that the most exciting research happens at the interface of disciplines. We have organised our research into twenty interdisciplinary themes.

These include, as you can see, Cancer, Digital Humanities, Genes & Society, and International Development. We are recognised, globally, for our interdisciplinary research in Ageing, Immunology, and Nanoscience. Many of our research themes already have their own institutes within the university; eventually all of them will.

So Trinity is a high-ranking multidisciplinary university with recognised interdisciplinary strengths. But with regard to Ireland, it is more than this: Trinity is pivotal to Ireland’s growth and competitiveness.

Ireland is European headquarters to 9 of the top 10 global software companies, and 9 of the top 10 US technology companies. The World Bank lists Dublin as one of the top 10 places in the world to do business

Alongside multinationals, we’re now seeing local start-ups and spin-outs contributing to growth. As an example, Google has its European headquarters in Dublin, and two months ago it acquired Thrive, a 3-D audio technology which will change users’ experience of virtual reality and gaming headsets. This technology was developed by Trinity College engineers who have now been recruited into Google.


This is illustrative of what’s happening with numerous other companies – tech, engineering, pharmaceutical, and creative. Trinity is providing the research and the graduates that are needed for these companies to grow.

Ireland is an English-speaking country within the EU. It serves as a gateway to mainland Europe – this has proved attractive for multinational companies and for international students seeking to study in English in Europe.

What we are now seeing in Dublin is the emergence of a thriving innovation ecosystem. This map shows the creative and tech industries clustered around Dublin city centre. Here, in red, is Trinity, surrounded by creative industries, in yellow, which include leading museums, galleries, and theatres. The blue dots are the tech companies – Google is located here, alongside Twitter and Facebook. The green dots are the start-ups. This map is about a year old, and needs to be updated but it gives an idea of Trinity’s centrality to the innovation hub.


In Trinity is delighted that we have this important role to play. But we’re also aware of our responsibility. If we are to continue contributing to growth and competitiveness, we must continue strengthening research, global collaborations, and innovation and entrepreneurship training. How do we propose to do this?

In Trinity our approach is three-pronged. We are strongly developing our research strengths, our global relations strategy, and our innovation and entrepreneurship strategy. Our approach is interconnected and many of our actions have relevance across the board.

* * *Global Relations* * *

Global relations, or internationalisation, is about building a global Trinity community. It’s about collaborating on research and attracting international faculty and students. It’s about making our campus a cosmopolitan place and preparing students for a life of global citizenship. And it’s about drawing on our alumni networks – we have over 100,000 alumni living in 122 countries – to create lifelong personal, academic, and professional relationships across the world, which will sustain both the university and individual alumni in building their careers. 

We are developing partnerships with universities and workplaces round the world, including here in Vietnam. For instance in a few days Trinity’s Department of Physiotherapy will sign a memorandum of understanding with An Binh and Choray hospitals in Ho Chi Minh. This will mean Trinity students coming to these hospitals in the summer to do elective clinical placements.

As we develop our academic partnerships abroad, we continue to make our campus more cosmopolitan and welcoming to international students. We do this through: establishing a Student’s Union international officer, and setting up a Global Room as a social, event, and resource space for students.


We are currently building the Trinity Global Graduate Internship Programme, which looks to place students to do internships in companies outside Ireland. We will be working with our 100,000 alumni round the world to achieve this.

***Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategy***

We know that our research and education is leading-edge and adventurous, and we constantly seek to break new ground.

Our Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategy was launched with the mission to “deliver economic, cultural, and social value founded on research and scholarship, as well as to educate future generations of entrepreneurially-minded graduates and create sustainable businesses and jobs.”

To this end, we are facilitating and encouraging staff, postgrad and student innovation and entrepreneurship.

Trinity creates, on average, seven new campus companies a year. These companies are emerging from different disciplines – including genetics, ICT, medical devices, digital humanities, and many have been markedly successful, like the games company Havok, whose technologies are used in major video games like Halo 4 and Call of Duty and in top-grossing films like The Matrix and the Harry Potter series.

We are also embedding innovation and entrepreneurship into how we educate Trinity students. Not everyone is going to have a career as an entrepreneur and start a new business, but all students benefit from an entrepreneurial mindset, just as they do from training in critical thinking and original research.

We are planning a new Business School which is to be co-located with an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub. The project, spanning 13,000 square metres, will include a 600-seat auditorium; a public space for students to meet and exchange ideas; ‘smart’ classrooms with the latest digital technology; space for prototyping and company incubation projects; and a rooftop conference room.

For PhD students, we have established the Innovation Academy. This seeks ‘to develop a new kind of PhD graduate, expert in their discipline, with a thorough understanding of how innovation can convert knowledge and ideas into products, services and policies for economic, and social and cultural benefit.” The Academy achieves this through linking up PhD students from three universities and numerous disciplines to collaborate and brainstorm and to avail of advice and backing from mentors and experts.


For undergraduates, we have a new programme, LaunchBox which provides students with seed funding, office space, and mentoring for three months while they incubate their business ideas. This was the idea a group of Trinity Angels – successful entrepreneurs who are giving back to the upcoming generation.

In just two years it has launched 15 companies.

The students participating in LaunchBox are not necessarily business students; we are fulfilling our aim to release the entrepreneurial potential of all students. So whether you come to Trinity to study medicine, or English language and literature, or social sciences, or engineering, you will get the opportunity, should you seek it, to commercialise your ideas.

* * *Conclusion* * *

I could continue with our initiatives in this area. But I think - I hope – you have gained an insight into some of our most important developments. I’m sure that here in VNU there are similar initiatives and I look forward to our discussions later.

In Trinity our College motto is ‘Perpetuis futuris temporibus duraturam’ which translates roughly as ‘It will last into endless future times’. The motto of your university – I won’t attempt it in Vietnamese - is ‘Excellence through Knowledge’.

These mottos speak of universities’ mission to bring knowledge and to establish excellence for future generations. Universities are by their nature sustainable. They are not short-term institutions or corporations. They’re not about turning a quick profit. Because they incubate young minds, they hold the future of the country – and of the world – between their walls. They are inspiring and responsible places.

The responsibility lies in making the most of opportunities, in anticipating advances, in preparing students to be flexible and adaptable to meet the changes that life and the workplace will throw at them.

Today universities are collaborating with businesses and corporations to lead the way in innovation and entrepreneurship. It’s new ground for universities but the energy and zest of universities, in Trinity’s case sustained over four centuries, comes from constantly breaking new ground. We look forward to what this century will bring – the century where universities are the engines for growth that society needs.

Thank you.

*  *  *


Michael Drake ‘Universities exist to elevate the human condition’, Glion Colloquium, p. 23

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