Northern Ireland Alumni Reception

The Inn of Courts, Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast

28th February 2019


Thank you, Donnell, for that kind introduction.

It’s wonderful to be here and see so many of you present. I was last in Northern Ireland to meet alumni at the annual dinner, just under two years ago, and I’ve met many of you in the meantime of course in events in the College. It’s great to be here in Belfast. As we’ve just heard from Mark1, this is one of the most active of our alumni associations – I congratulate and thank him and Cecil Bates and Eithne Ryan for their great work.

Many thanks also to Pro-Chancellor Lord Justice Deeny for his help in organising this evening’s event – in particular we have him to thank for this wonderful venue.

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As ever, there have been many significant developments in Trinity since I last addressed you, which I look forward to telling you about.

We also find ourselves in a developing situation over Brexit. For those of us who want to avoid a hard Brexit, the past few days have looked a bit more positive. But it remains an on-going situation. Uncertainty is not helpful.

I want to say something about Brexit because it impacts Trinity and, in particular, it impacts our historic commitment to being a university for the whole island of Ireland, with a history of educating students from Northern Ireland.

One of the things I’m proud of in my Provostship is that we’ve spearheaded a major re-engagement with Northern Ireland - with the aim of returning admissions to Trinity to their former level. As you’re all aware, Northern Ireland’s long tradition of sending students to Trinity was impaired for a number of reasons - chiefly the introduction of two separate admissions systems – the CAO and UCAS – in the 1970s.

Our college initiatives to redress falling admissions have included adjusting A-Level requirements and sending out student ambassadors to schools in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this week, Trinity had a strong presence at the annual UCAS education fair. Our staff were on hand to speak to potential students and their families and to highlight the benefits of a Trinity education.

Our team includes a dedicated EU Student Recruitment Manager, Deirbhle O'Reilly. The team attends numerous education fairs in Northern Ireland each year, and visits schools to speak to students, teachers and career guidance counsellors.

Our initiatives have had effect: there has been a year-on-year increase of almost 20 percent in applications to Trinity from Northern Ireland for the last few years.

However, this academic year saw a 20 percent drop in applications. There are a few reasons for this: Deirbhle O'Reilly- our EU Student Recruitment Manager – reports from her interactions with more than forty Northern Irish schools this year that the rental situation and cost of living in Dublin is a factor, but not a decisive one -  the cities of Bath, Bristol and London, for instance, are all as expensive to live in as Dublin and have much higher tuition fees, but remain popular destinations with Northern Irish students.

Deirbhle reports that uncertainty around Brexit has had a major impact on applications.

We are doing what we can to improve the rental situation. We are currently building 250 new rooms on the main campus – Printing House Square is being developed to high spec and will house a Health Centre, squash courts and a rifle range.

I note also that in the current budget, the Government is addressing the housing crisis - this will have effect in a couple of years.

The responsibility for Brexit lies with the UK government, of course, but we have to engage also, and come up with solutions to the downsides as they affect us – we cannot, and should not, ignore this aspect just because the impetus behind Brexit does not rest with us.

A few months ago, in November, Trinity had the opportunity to publish an open letter on Brexit in the Financial Times.2 We had two salient points to make: first, a hard Brexit threatens the remarkable achievement of the European Research area, and the more than one thousand collaborations which Irish universities enjoy with UK universities. We in Trinity value our EU and UK collaborations. We don’t want to be pushed into choosing one over the other. That’s not in anyone’s interest. UK universities are in agreement on this.

Second, a hard Brexit threatens cross-border higher education. Education and culture are perhaps the most important of all ‘goods and services’ that a frictionless border enables.   

To put it bluntly: a hard Brexit threatens all the hard work we’ve put into improving admissions from Northern Ireland to Trinity. I don’t expect this to be a concern in Westminster but if Brexit results in even less educational and cultural movement, north and south, then that is something that should concern us, and concern us deeply.

We ended the Open Letter to the Financial Times by quoting Edmund Burke, whose statue you have all passed countless times at Front Gate “Rage and frenzy”, wrote Burke, “will pull down more in half an hour than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in a hundred years.” 

We continue to plead for prudence, deliberation and foresight.

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Now, let me give you a brief overview of what’s been going on in your university. I’m delighted to say that we’re enjoying a great period of growth. Many of the initiatives which I’ve been discussing with you in my visits here are now nearing completion and other initiatives are getting off the ground.

Among these, let me mention the Trinity Business School, which will be officially opened on 23rd May. The Business School has been greatly enabled by alumni generosity. Already, just the fact of our building it has brought our MBA programme into the top 50 of such programmes world-wide. It’s truly game-changer.

I’m also delighted to report here, in the Inn of Court, that the Business Plan for the new Trinity Law School is going through College structures and should be signed-off in two months. Positive conversations are on-going with the legal community in Dublin, and with our Law School alumni around the world. We’ve recently established a new Professorship of Constitutional Governance, and Professor Aileen Kavanagh, currently in Oxford university, will join us in the chair in September.

The new Engineering, Environment and Emerging Technologies Institute, E3, which I’ve mentioned previously, is now well underway thanks to the transformative donation of €25 million euro from the Naughton family, bolstered by a further €15 million from the state. We will begin to demolish the old biochemistry building in July in preparation for building the E3 Learning Foundry. In parallel, we’re preparing our application for planning permission for the E3 Research Institute, which will be the centrepiece of the Trinity Campus at Grand Canal Dock.

This new Trinity Campus will be the nucleus of the globally competitive Grand Canal Innovation District which Trinity is planning together with government, the other Dublin universities and stakeholders from the business community. The District will play a role for all Ireland, creating a centre for innovation, connected to global networks, and promoting all types of innovation, including in the creative arts.

Many of our initiatives – also including the Library, the Trinity Access Programme and the Trinity St James Cancer Institute – are being highlighted as particularly important in the Philanthropic Campaign, which will be launching in Dublin on 2nd May, ahead of launches in London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore. This is a truly global campaign, reflecting our global alumni.  

It’s the first comprehensive college-wide campaign in the history of the university. There have been other campaigns for one-off projects – for instance the campaign to build the Berkeley Library fifty years ago, which inspired a wonderful response. Most movingly, Samuel Beckett donated the profits from the New York run of his play, ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’.

That’s a wonderful story. I hope this Philanthropic Campaign inspires similar stories.

The campaign for the Berkeley Library gave Beckett the opportunity to contribute to his alma mater and safeguard what he believed in – literature and learning. With this wide-ranging Campaign we offer graduates and friends the opportunity to drive Trinity forward in its aspects that resonate most with them.

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We’re hopeful and confident that the Campaign will be a huge success because we know we can count on the support of our worldwide network of graduates. Trinity has over 115,000 graduates across 150 countries – many of them are, like you, active graduates, committed to the university.

In the past decade, we’ve greatly strengthened our connections with our global alumni. This has been achieved as part of our global relations strategy, which has seen us significantly increase our research and education collaborations around the world.

Just a fortnight ago we launched the third iteration of our Global Relations Strategy. As part of the launch, we prepared this booklet, ‘Trinity Growing Globally’, which captures the initiatives and excitement of recent years. It’s hot off the press and I’ve brought some copies for you to take away, if you want to read the latest about what we’re up to.

It includes narratives, visuals, images, and first-person accounts from students who have benefitted. I think it really captures the exciting global achievements of these years. For example, this academic year, the first cohort of students on the Trinity-Columbia Dual BA programme, started in Trinity. They will spend two years with us before transferring to Columbia University in New York, eventually graduating with degrees from both universities. This goes well beyond traditional student exchange programmes and is a game-changer in international education. 

Trinity’s programmes globally are now significantly deeper than any programme we have with a European university. However, the EU is a strong priority area in our just launched Global Relations Strategy 3 – or GRS 3 as we call it. This includes, of course deepening our relations with UK universities.

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Trinity could not function in the way it does, nor enjoy the global reputation that it does, without the remarkable support of our alumni. My main priority here this evening is to fill you in on our activities – and to thank you most warmly for your support.

We’re immensely grateful for your willingness to give of your time, expertise, and financial assistance in support of our different college activities. I know that you do this from warm memories of your student days, and from pride in belonging to a university which has made a profound impact on the world, which goes from strength to strength.

As a sign of our appreciation, we recently opened an Alumni Room in East Chapel. This was enabled by generous philanthropic support and it’s for your use to relax, or hold meetings in, so do please avail of it whenever you’re in Dublin. It’s a particularly comfortable and beautiful room.

Now is an exciting time for us. I encourage you all to stay in touch and get involved and be part of the next phase.

Many thanks.

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