Signing of MOU between Trinity College Dublin and the University of Birmingham

Library, Provost's House

25th January 2019


Good morning,

Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University Sir David Eastwood, Ambassador Barnett, colleagues, it’s my pleasure to formally welcome you on this key occasion of the launch of the strategic partnership between the University of Birmingham and Trinity College Dublin. It was great to meet everyone properly at dinner yesterday evening. This morning began with a Brexit roundtable, and with a visit to our university of Margrethe Vestager, EU Competition Commissioner who received the Gold Medal of the College debating society – The Hist.

We look forward to hearing shortly from academic leads from both universities about the exciting potential for collaborations. I thank everyone who has worked to bring this about on both sides. Speaking for Trinity, I can say that we feel at once excitement and familiarity about this alliance – excitement because this is a new partnership with a most distinguished peer university, and familiarity because I believe our two universities are cut from similar cloth, if you like. We are both large, multidisciplinary, founded by royal charter, highly ranked, and play an important role in our cities and regions. We understand each other; we share goals and aims, and this must favour a strong partnership of mutual benefit.

Over the past decade Trinity has hugely strengthened its global partnerships; this is one of the achievements of which we can be most proud. The vice-president of Global Relations, Professor Juliette Hussey, is here today. She has been instrumental to this achievement; next month we are launching the third iteration of our Global Relations Strategy.

In the first two stages of this Strategy we focussed very much on North America and Asia. These are regions where we felt we needed to have a much stronger footprint, to establish links with peer universities and put in place student exchanges and research collaborations. Our success has, frankly, exceeded all expectations. As a result in the new Strategy, launching next month, we’ll be putting more focus on relations with neighbouring and European universities.

Of course, our existing collaborations across Europe are already significant. Trinity is a member of LERU, the League of European Research Universities, which plays an important lobbying role. But what has proved particularly instructive about our recent global relations strategy is that we’ve put in place meaningful collaborations in Asia and the US - including articulation programmes, joint degree and dual degree programmes - which go beyond any programme we have yet with European universities.

We are currently working on developing our network for the European Universities Network, which is a new EU scheme of ground-breaking potential with the University of Barcelona, the University of Utrecht, the University of Montpellier, and Eotvos Loránd University in Budapest.

At a meeting with the European Commission to discuss the vision and concept of this Network last summer I said that I felt that

“we are only at the cusp of leveraging the vast potential of the research, education and innovation opportunities within Europe.”

And I continued by emphasizing that

“because of proximity, shared history and culture, the opportunity for deeper partnerships in Europe is enormous.”

If this is true for Europe, it’s particularly true for Ireland and the UK. Irish and UK researchers currently enjoy almost a thousand collaborations under the EU’s Horizon2020 programme, far more than Ireland has with any other country. It would be surprising if this were not the case, given common language, history, culture and that the UK has the best universities in Europe.

In Trinity we are fully committed to maintaining and strengthening links with UK universities. This is very important for us. With the Thapar University in India, with Singapore Institute of Technology, and with Columbia University in New York, we have proved that it’s possible to build deep collaborations across the world. These are our models for what can be achieved, and it is of course eminently possible even after Brexit. While Brexit is not something we here wishes for, we have to be prepared for the new environment it brings.

This MOU represents a wonderful opportunity for students and staff, particularly of course in the agreed areas of collaboration – medicine, bioengineering and digital editing and engagement. And I note also the potential for innovation exchanges between TCD’s new TTEC campus and UoB’s Life Science Park development.

The launch of a strategic partnership between universities is always important. Brexit gives this strategic partnership an additional importance. It’s certainly time now I think to be talking about ambition, opportunity, collaboration, common ground, and enabling new advances in research and education through partnership.  

Let me end with a quote from the great Northern Irish poet, Louis MacNeice, who in the 1930s lectured in Classics in the University of Birmingham, and he must have maintained close relations there because E.R. Dodds, the professor of Greek was his literary executor. Trinity’s connection with MacNeice is through our graduates Michael Longley and Derek Mahon who cite him as an inspiration and influence; indeed Mahon has written a long elegy to him.

The lines from MacNeice I’d like to end on are from his poem, ‘Snow’:

World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural.

Suddener and crazier – certainly these last few years – but what, finally, could be more optimistic or more apt a motto for academic collaboration than: “incorrigibly plural”?

Thank you.