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Towards 2025: Community and Connection

There is a small, unassuming building, tucked away on the grounds of Birr Castle, technically part of the Trinity campus, that can provide us with a way of understanding the place of Trinity College Dublin as Ireland’s leading research university today.

Its origin can be traced back to 1845 when William Parsons (Trinity graduate and later Chancellor of the university) built the largest telescope in the world, the ‘Leviathan of Parsonstown’, on the grounds of his castle. It is from here that a small community of ground-breaking scholars unravelled the spiral structure of galaxies and traced the moons of Jupiter. The Leviathan of today is the LOFAR radio telescope. It is made up of a digital network of antennae, spread across the entire continent of Europe. A LOFAR node sits by the ruins of the old Leviathan at Birr Castle, and Trinity’s innocuous little building services it. And herein lies its message to our university community in the 21st century: growth and progress today are not about getting bigger, they are about being more connected.

We in Trinity know this. Inhabiting a 44-acre heritage campus in a compact, low-rise city centre is very different from operating a campus on a green field site, where expansion means filling the open spaces. The main Trinity campus, clustered around five squares and two playing fields, is a space in which every square metre matters. Living and working on a campus such as ours is a constant reminder of the lesson that resonates in so many ways around our planet today. In a finite world, growth and development can no longer be about moving into uninhabited territories, as if there

will always be more land; today, development is about connecting, about living responsibly with the resources we have and will bequeath to future generations. For the Trinity community, being part of a connected world will involve understanding our global relationships and responsibilities in a new way, not least in our pursuit of the most ambitious philanthropic campaign in Irish history, ‘Inspiring Generations’, which will mobilise our 140,000 alumni and our supporters worldwide to raise €400m to take the university to its next stage of development.

Our three priorities are as follows:

Priority 1: Diversity and the student experience

Thinking about Trinity in this way raises questions about the kind of university we strive to be and the optimum composition of our student body over the next five years and beyond. Having one of the best-educated workforces in the world has played no small part in Ireland’s dramatic transition to an innovation economy over the past thirty years. We will need to maintain this success story in the years from 2020 to 2025 with an expected increase of around 12% in the number of students enrolled in Irish higher education by 2025. In Trinity, we will play our part to meet that demand and, based on a programme-by-programme analysis, we are projecting that our student population will grow from just over 18,000 in 2018 to approximately 21,500 in 2025. Such growth will be carefully managed across the different categories of students with a policy of resourced, strategic development which positions us to explore ever more creative options to meet the changing demands of an evolving student demographic. Above all, we are determined to ensure that such growth will not compromise the students’ learning and access for all students, undergraduate and postgraduates alike, to individual attention and top researchers, to personal guidance and first-rate supervision. To that end, we have an ambitious plan to hire new and additional academic staff across the faculties in key areas to bring down the overall student to staff ratio from its current high levels to 16:1.

In a national context, where government policy values internationalisation, we are proud that our sustained efforts to bring students from around the world to Trinity play a substantial role in the €386m that international students contribute as export income to the Irish economy on an annual basis. However, in terms of what internationalisation means for the student from Singapore or from Sligo in the seminar room in Dublin, there is an aspect that needs to be better articulated that is not purely economic. Having a diverse mix of students learning together speaks strongly to our deeply-held value of being an inclusive community, and we think about socio-economic diversity and geographical diversity as part of the same strategic goal. So, for instance, our Trinity Access Programmes will be instrumental in increasing the percentage of our undergraduate students from non-traditional backgrounds in higher education to 25% by 2025, joining the 30-35% of students from outside the EU who will be part of our student population at that point. At the same time, we will, over the next few years, be developing with partner universities around Europe, one of the pioneering new European universities, CHARM- EU, in which students can build their degree by moving seamlessly between five different institutions. Fostering a diverse, globally-connected student community is equally rooted in our core values of inclusivity and collaboration. Today, Trinity’s identity as a globalised university maps on to the place of Ireland as one of the most globalised countries in the world of the 21st century.

Our student population will be changing in other ways, as the percentage of postgraduate students on campus will exceed 30%, moving us closer to comparable research universities in Europe and across the world. To prepare for this change, we will, over the next five years, fundamentally renew our postgraduate experience, both in our taught programmes and for our research students, and will develop a suite of new programmes linked to pioneering research initiatives.

The evolution of Trinity as a research university will also be a response to the recognition that the nature of work is changing radically, perhaps more radically than at any time in recent human history. An OECD report from 2018, The Future of Education and Skills: Education 2030, puts it like this: “We must prepare our students for jobs that have not yet been created, for technologies that have not yet been invented, to solve problems that have not yet been anticipated.” At an undergraduate level, by 2020, the Trinity Education Project will have completed a major renewal of our undergraduate curriculum, instilling the graduate attributes of thinking independently, communicating effectively, acting responsibly, and developing continuously – precisely those future-proofing qualities that graduates will require. We will continue the pedagogical renewal of the Trinity Education Project with our students as partners in learning and will also prepare our students for this new world of work with ambitious new programmes such as those associated with our E3 (Engineering, Environment and Emerging Technologies) initiative, which, from 2022, will be housed in a new kind of physical learning environment, the Martin Naughton E3 Learning Foundry. Likewise, Tangent, Trinity’s Ideas Workspace, will continue to ensure that we are among the leading universities in Europe for producing entrepreneurs, following through on the Irish government’s National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030, which pointed to the universities as the seedbed of Irish innovation.

Our strategic response to the needs of a rapidly changing world of work has two further cornerstones. Firstly, we will meet a manifest and growing demand among alumni, life-long learners and our staff by offering more short-cycle courses and by exploring micro-credentialing strategies over the next few years that will bring new types of learners into the university. Secondly, we will develop and implement a comprehensive digital learning strategy which will put in place policies and structures to create an agile and adaptive core for a new technologically advanced learning environment.

Priority 2: Research for impact and sustainability

As Ireland’s leading research organisation, we position “research at the heart of the university” and will “stand up for research”, as articulated in our recent Living Research Excellence Strategy. Over the next five years, we will be taking a leadership role nationally and internationally to ensure that the research environment allows transformative research to thrive, for the benefit of society. We will be campaigning for better funding for investigator-led research in the sciences, social sciences and in the arts and humanities; sufficient research overheads from research funders to make excellent research sustainable; more Ph.D. scholarships and more funding opportunities for individual principal investigators. We will make the case for diverse and nuanced ways of measuring research excellence and impact, particularly in the arts and humanities, where investment in staff will continue to develop one of Trinity’s traditional strengths. Finally, we will significantly increase our partnerships with industry. In this respect, Trinity will be central to delivering on the promise of the national Innovation 2020 strategy, which takes as its keynote a vision focusing on excellence, talent and impact in research to make Ireland a global innovation leader.

The major capital projects that will dominate the next five years signal our intent to be a research university of global consequence. Each development has been carefully deliberated on to make sure it will allow us to use our space more efficiently, weaving the campus more deeply into the fabric of a sustainable city. The university’s Old Library lies at the heart of the campus and attracts over one million visitors annually; it is also home to one of the world’s great collections. Over the next five years, work will begin on a major conservation project for the Old Library, enabled by philanthropy, which will include a new Research Collections Study Centre that will greatly facilitate researchers’ opportunity to perform ground-breaking scholarship in the humanities and social sciences.

To the east of the main campus, we will be part of a €1bn project to create the Grand Canal Innovation District, a project of national strategic significance aligned to the infrastructural vision of Project Ireland 2040. The Trinity @ Grand Canal Quay campus will be one of the cornerstones of this remapping of Dublin. To the west of the main campus, in partnership with St James’s Hospital, we will be developing a Comprehensive Cancer Centre as a flagship for excellence in clinical care, research and education in oncology. Dublin is already a vibrant city with a global presence, and these major developments continue our engagement with our neighbours, with Dublin city, and with the Irish government, to make Dublin one of the world’s major centres of innovation and creativity in the 21st century.

Underlying all of this activity is a deeply-felt sense that, as members of a university community, we have a unique privilege in being able to shape the future for the better. In order to give this ethical core a point of focus over the next five years, we have set ourselves a grand challenge: we will align ourselves to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, significantly increasing the extent to which our research and teaching aligns with the aim of achieving a healthy and sustainable planet. The E3 initiative, in both its teaching and research phases, addresses these challenges directly; tackling the UN Sustainable Development Goals will, however, require sustained collaborative research across all disciplines that involves the Sciences, Health Sciences, Social Sciences, and Arts and Humanities together. Beyond research and teaching, however, we are deeply committed to sustainability in terms of how we live as a community, and we will continue to find new and creative ways to make our world fairer, healthier and more sustainable, whether it is in our adoption of sustainable commuting and working practices, or how we invest.

Priority 3: Community and effective organisation

In recognising that the profile of the students will considerably change over the next five years, becoming more diverse and learning in new ways, we must ensure that our staffing, infrastructure and processes are matched to a changing student population. Trinity has always been distinguished by the strong sense of belonging it fosters among its students. Trinity students are citizens of a community, participating in its governance and contributing their own strategic plan - published by the TCD Students’ Union for 2019-2024 it promises to hold the university to account for commitments made to enhance the student experience. This is to be welcomed by all. The special relationship between students and the institution of which they are a part is kept alive by features of student life such as the Tutor system (with its roots in the 18th century), the vibrant life of student societies, and the active involvement of students in the governance of the university at all levels. However, further developing the student experience will require investment. To ensure that the residential nature of the College is maintained, we will be building at least 600 more student rooms over the next five years and work continuously to enhance the campus as a place that is open to the students for formal and informal learning.

The relationships between academic staff and students only constitute one axis in the network of interdependencies that make up a university. We will adopt the principle of ‘one Trinity community’ in which all feel ownership and in which all are heard and valued, and put in place practices and policies to make it a reality, fostering values of mutual respect and collaborative working for everyone in the College. Central to this initiative will be finding new ways to create a more transparent, flexible and effective organisation. This will entail increasing inter- operability between our support systems and enhancing effectiveness overall, so that academic staff will be able to focus more on their core mission in education and research.

Our commitment as an organisation to responsible self-governance means accountability to our diverse stakeholders, including students, staff, alumni, donors, funders, government and the local community. We will review our governance structures to ensure they enhance our capacity to deliver on our strategy and ambition and to support the effective and successful management of the university.

Our strong commitment to values of inclusivity and equality also means that we will unrelentingly pursue our ambitious targets towards full gender equality under the Athena SWAN programme and the HEA National Review of Gender Equality in Higher Education Institutions (2016). We will develop a robust Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy which will drive these principles. Our strong sense of ethics and societal responsibility also manifests itself in a widely-shared commitment to embed, enable and articulate civic action in research, in teaching, and in our institutional culture.

This may only be one aspect of our mission that informs the multifaceted life of a complex organisation, but it also crystallises our vision of who we are: “We are a globally connected community of research, scholarship and learning, inspiring generations to meet the challenges of the future.”

These goals are referred to as ‘cross-cutting’ because no one goal relates purely to a single aspect of our mission. Instead, the plan recognises that, in a complex organisation made up of people that are both internally and externally interconnected in a myriad of ways, each goal will develop multiple aspects of the mission. Each goal is supported by a number of actions and targets, which are each only mentioned once under the goals, though most of them address more than one aspect of our mission and therefore also relate to other goals. To make this interdependence visible, this Strategic Plan links each target to our CORE mission.

One of our actions, for instance, is our commitment to undertake important conservation work on the Old Library. With the creation of a Research Collections Study Centre being part of this, it will develop our research goals and also contribute to research-led teaching, while at the same time, it will require infrastructural work, financial planning, and policy initiatives, and the new Exhibition Centre will form part of our engagement with wider society. Therefore, this project relates to all four aspects of our mission: Civic action , Organisation , Research and Education . To make this interconnection visible in the plan, the action is therefore represented by C O R E.

These nine interconnected and cross-cutting goals are the result of a process of consultation and strategic planning across the entire institution. Strategic planning is very much an ongoing process and, as such, an intrinsic part of life in Trinity, driving our decisions and actions at every level. In the period leading up to this new plan, we have approved no fewer than nineteen individual strategic initiatives that will take shape in the five-year period from 2020 to 2025. These range, for example, from our commitment to revitalise our administration and professional services under START, to the Trinity Business School Development Plan which enabled the opening of our new €80m Business School in 2019, to the €400m ‘Inspiring Generations’ Philanthropic Campaign also launched in 2019. These individual initiatives, with their actions, targets and underlying business cases, have all combined to help inform and shape this Strategic Plan. They are referenced using acronyms at the end of each action or target, linking into the appendix which provides fuller details of these initiatives and those involved in their implementation.