Speech at the meeting with the European Commission to discuss the vision and concept of 'European Universities'

Academy Plaza Hotel, 10-14 Findlater Place, Dublin 1

16 July 2018

Good afternoon,

And thank you for this opportunity to be here and talk about Trinity College Dublin’s European networks. I acknowledge the contribution of my colleague, Doris Alexander - this presentation was prepared by both of us.

In Trinity we have been successful at maximising the opportunities from EU funded activities since the early days, leading to the situation shown here.

Trinity is a high performer in Horizon2020 with €72.6 m to date, in Erasmus, and in the EIT where we participate in three KICs, and other prestigious EU programmes such as the Graphene Flagship.

As examples of Horizon 2020 projects in Open Science and Citizen Science; we are partners in OpenAIRE to improve discoverability and reusability of research publications; and through Science Gallery, we participate in INTEGRITY, and EU.Citizen.Science.


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Maximising the opportunities for excellent research through EU programmes is central to our research strategy, as is linking in with other European universities through membership of academic networks. On foot of these successes, last year we were invited to join the League of European Research Universities, or LERU.

LERU is an association of 23 European research-intensive universities committed to the values of high-quality teaching within an environment of internationally competitive research. The members are shown here.

As a network, LERU has a total research budget exceeding €5 billion and counts 230 Nobel Prize winners and Field Medal winners among its staff and students.

Being accepted as a member of LERU was a lengthy process. LERU did its own research impact evaluations, looking at publications, citations, funding bodies, industry collaborations, and graduate trajectories. Getting through such a rigorous evaluation was a huge endorsement. We put ourselves forward because we had confidence in the scale and quality of our research and in its measurable impact.

The purpose of LERU is summarized on this slide.


As a member of LERU, we contribute to influencing policy and European Union and Member State level. We do this as a prestigious network rather than as individual, isolated universities. We develop best practices between members and agree collaborative actions.

We are organised into both policy and thematic groups, as shown on this slide.

Trinity has a member contributing to each of these 20 groups meeting bi-annually.

Another important element to the LERU network is the Central European 7, or CE7 as it has come to be called.

This group meets with LERU Directors, giving LERU an insight into the diversity of issues across the EU.

LERU uses members’ combined strengths as impactive research universities

  • to influence the direction of European research policy;
  • to promote basic or frontier research; and
  • to advocate for all EU member states to meet the 3% GDP target of investment in R&D.

These are aims which European universities in general, and not just LERU members, strongly endorse.

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Trinity is also a founding member of The Coimbra group – This group is larger than LERU but still only represents a small percentage of Europe’s universities. Founded in 1985, it has 39 members across 23 countries.

Trinity’s Professor Juergen Barkhoff is Vice-President of The Coimbra Group. One of the Coimbra Group’s great success stories is participation in the Erasmus programme – 16% of all Erasmus students in Europe come from Coimbra universities. The ties developed between members for three decades now have helped embed the Erasmus programme.

Trinity is highly active in Coimbra - In November 2017, we hosted a Coimbra Policy Seminar on ‘Internationalisation of the Curriculum’. Coimbra also provides positions papers and responses to European research and education initiatives.

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Trinity is also a member of focussed networks including for example UNITECH.

Unitech is a network of Technological Universities and industry partners, who pay to join. Membership of Unitech gives engineering students, for instance, the opportunity to do a semester in a partner university as well as an industry placement. Participation in UNITECH massively increases a student’s employability.

A similar network is Cluster which, as you see, has associate global members.

And, for medical students, Trinity is a member of EuroLife, a consortium of European Universities in the Life Sciences.

UNITECH, Cluster, and Eurolife are examples of active networks adding depth to European education through exchanges and pooling of faculty expertise.

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Our European networks and programmes are part of a broader Global Relations Strategy. In 2011 we first created the role of Vice-President for Global Relations; we are currently agreeing the third iteration of our global relations strategy – ‘GRS3’ as we call it.

As a result of this proactive approach, we have now put in place multiple collaborative research and education partnerships, and student exchange programmes outside the EU.

An example of a high-quality exchange is  out membership of the Consortium of Advanced Study Abroad – or CASA. We joined this group of prestegous Ivy League universities in 2016, and are the only member outside the USA.

Our global partnerships have been highly ambitious:

  • Columbia University where we have a dual BA programme
  • Beijing Foreign Studies University
  • University of Science and Technology Beijing


  • Thaper University In India where we have a 2+2 articulation agreement
  • Singapore Institute of Technology where we’re now in the seventh year of our joint degree programme in Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Radiation Therapy have received a joint degree, and the
  • University of Economics Ho Chi Minh

The resulting growth in students from outside the EU coming to Trinity to study has been massive since 2011.

It must be said that the dual programme with Columbia, the joint programme with Singapore, and the articulation programme with Thapar University in India are significantly deeper than any programme we have with any European university.

It is interesting to speculate why this is the case – and I don’t think Trinity is unusual in this – and it is certainly high time Europe started to do more on higher education and we therefore greatly support the development of the European Education Area.

Speaking on a personal note, I know how strengthened my own European identity was by the period I spent in the universities of Nijmegen in the Netherlands or as a Council of Europe scholar at the University of Bologna. The effect of learning new languages, assimilating new cultures and absorbing pan-European research was simply transformative.

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The European Universities Network, which Ms Deblais-Sainton has outlined so well for us, represents a huge scaling up of ambition. Naturally, we welcome it – it’s exactly what the EU should be doing. Through LERU, Coimbra and our other networks, Trinity will advocate for this initiative at national and EU level. We’ve already started to put together our own network.

Let me end on an observation which won’t, I think, come as a surprise to many of you, but which is worth making: the reason why Trinity has been able to set up these ambitious dual, joint and articulation programmes with Columbia, Singapore and Thapar is because we've been able to finance them.

The charging of fees hasn’t been controversial.  On the contrary. I expected there would be enthusiasm over the dual degree with Columbia but even I was taken aback by the rush to sign up. They were not deterred by the fees. They clearly saw the advantage that high-quality education offers.

Europe needs to take a strong, cohesive, integrated approach towards impactive research and education. Our universities must collaborate and work in partnership with governments, industry, policy-makers and opinion leaders. This is not something that any one university, or country, can achieve alone. In many cases the essential dynamic for change is missing at national level.A coordinated response will achieve most for our students, graduates and societies.

I hugely welcome the European Universities Network and I would be delighted to put Trinity’s global experience with joint education to work at a European level.

Thank you.