Trinity-Columbia Dual BA Programme Official Launch

Casa Italiana, Columbia University

15 February 2018


Good evening,

And what a pleasure to be here on this truly memorable occasion. It’s wonderful to be standing here with Lisa and David, representing our respective universities, and celebrating our decision to come together to create this marvellous opportunity for students.

As David has said, in just seven months’ time, in September, the first cohort of Trinity College Dublin and Columbia University students will commence the Dual BA Programme. They will have the great experience of living and studying in two great universities, in two great cities, and they will graduate with two degrees. Small wonder that there have already been over 150 applications - many more applications, I’m afraid, than the programme can fit.

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This is very much a 21st century programme – enabled by radical recent advances in technology, travel, and higher education, and building on many years of cooperation between Trinity and Columbia through student exchange programmes and research collaborations.

We’re not the first universities to come together to create a dual degree programme – but we are among the pioneers. And since we’re highly ranked universities, there is international interest in how this will turn out.

Let me make just a few remarks. Firstly, why is this a good idea? What’s the thinking behind the Dual Programme?

We are in a period of deep and rapid transformational change in higher education. For instance:

  • technological advances are changing the way that we learn and do research;
  • globalisation has created new opportunities for research and education;
  • the role of higher education in innovation, the commercialisation of research, and educating in key entrepreneurial skills means that universities are ever more central to the economic and social development of their regions, and
  • the traditional model of a job and career for life is evolving into something more flexible and variable. This in turn is greatly impacting on employer needs and student expectations.

These radical advances of the past two decades are happening, regardless of how well society is prepared for them. As universities, we have to keep ahead of developments, while honouring our core mission. We need to maximise opportunities and prepare our students for a changed and changing world.

This means giving them ever greater international exposure, and wider cultural experiences. In the course of their lives, today’s graduates are likely to change jobs and careers, and cities and countries much more frequently than their parents did. They will have to be more familiar with different world cultures, more adaptive and flexible, and more open to life-long learning.

The most practical way to prepare them for the future is by incorporating international experience within their college years. Making the most out of a new environment and country, and staying open to new ways of doing things, is something that can be learnt, and the earlier students train themselves in this, the better.

In Trinity we have been witness to the great benefits of student exchanges in terms of growing students’ knowledge and confidence and their intellectual and emotional maturity, and making our campus more diverse. It’s now thirty years since the EU established the Erasmus programme which enables European students to study for a year in another European university.

About six or seven years ago, we began serious efforts to broaden student exchange programmes beyond Europe. We’ve been successful in this.

Now, with the Dual Degree Programme, we go even beyond exchanges: two years’ abroad and a degree from two universities. In two years, you can really get to know a culture, and you can build up lasting friendships and contacts. To graduate with degrees from a top US and a top European university, able to draw on the global alumni networks of both – that’s to have got off to a significant head-start.

So the benefits of a dual BA programme are many, and, as I’ve mentioned, 21st century advances have created the opportunity. However, to make a success of a Dual BA Programme requires, I think, certain conditions. I do not believe it can be achieved by random universities coming haphazardly together. It requires deep affinity - shared history, culture, values and heritage. This is what Trinity and Columbia can draw on.

Both our universities were founded centuries ago by royal charter from British monarchs – Trinity in 1592 by Elizabeth the First, and Columbia in 1754 by George the Second. Much has happened in the intervening centuries – not least, American and Irish independence – but we remain proud of our founding charters. Both Columbia and Trinity are urban universities, embedded in cities and intrinsic to their cultural, social, and economic fabric.

We’re also both multidisciplinary universities with proud traditions of tolerance, diversity and progressiveness. If you look at our mission statements, they’re similar – we both put emphasis on global partnerships, on advancing knowledge, and on serving our regions and cities.

And our two cities, New York and Dublin have enjoyed, of course, the closest of relations for two centuries - deep ties of language, culture, trade and people. Fairy Tale of New York was a novel written by a New Yorker who became a Trinity graduate and an Irish citizen, and the title was subsequently borrowed by an Irishman for a song set here in New York, one of the most famous Christmas songs of the past generation. It’s a resonant title, because in Ireland, New York is myth and metaphor, the stuff that dreams are made on - an imagined as well as a real place. The same is perhaps true of Ireland for Americans.

This is the incredibly rich shared heritage that the Dual Programme is drawing on. This is why we can be confident of success. There is nothing random about this programme. It’s the formalising and logical progression of existing ties – ties consciously and deliberately created by our two institutions over the past decade, and ties unconsciously woven between our two countries for centuries.

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Many people deserve credit for developing the Dual BA Programme, on both sides of the Atlantic. I’d like to mention in particular, from Columbia:

  • David Madigan and Lisa Rosen-Metsch, who have spoken so eloquently today. David is, of course, a Trinity graduate, and Trinity is very proud of his achievements; also
  • Peter Awn, former Dean of the School of General Studies, who was greatly instrumental from the start; Professor Victoria Rosner, Dean of Academic Affairs in the School, and Curtis Rodgers, Vice Dean; also
  • Jessica Sarles Dinsick, Associate Dean for International Programs at Columbia.

And from Trinity, our two academic champions:

  • Darryl Jones, Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Zuleika Rodgers, who is Director of the Dual BA Programme

On behalf of Trinity, I thank you all for the inspirational work you have put into this programme. Thanks to you, students will get the opportunity to experience difference, but within an integral environment where they feel secure and supported.

The Programme will obviously greatly benefit the selected students and our respective campuses. And beyond this, I believe the Dual Programme sends out an important message. We know that education, research and innovation can’t happen in isolation – they depend on the free exchange of ideas and people. If countries and universities withdraw into isolation and stop connecting internationally, then knowledge cannot grow.

We’re living at a time when voices promoting political, social and economic retreat, separation and seclusion are gaining ground. This makes it more crucial than ever that universities make common cause with one another, develop a sense of an interrelated international intellectual life, and a sense of togetherness and solidarity for shared values.

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‘Defenceless under the night / Our world in stupor lies;/ Yet dotted everywhere/ Ironic points of light / Flash out wherever the Just / Exchange their messages’

That is W.H. Auden, writing in New York City, in words that continue to resonate.

Universities have to be among ‘the Just’, and we have to continue exchanging messages. The ‘points of light’ aren’t enough in themselves; without exchange they remain isolated and helpless. Hope lies in the flash, the exchange and the ‘affirming flame’ which are the words that the poem ends on.

Ladies and Gentlemen let our Dual BA program show that affirming flame.

Thank you.

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