Unitrin College Dublin?

According to reports in both the Irish Times and the Irish Independent today, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin are in talks aimed at creating closer links, with a degree of integration of their research activities in particular. It is reported, and I imagine accurately, that the Department of the Taoiseach, and perhaps the Minister for Finance, were involved in discussions leading to this development.

Both newspapers indicate that the other five universities – including my own therefore, DCU – are likely to be ‘infuriated’ (Irish Independent), or set for a ‘furious reaction’ (Irish Times). Clearly I cannot speak for the other institutions, but I can announce here that I am much more relaxed than that. On a pro rata basis (i.e. per member of staff), DCU draws in more research funding than either of the two institutions who are the subject of the report, and we will cope with this development without too much fury or worry; it may even help us to put into relief the rather more innovative nature of DCU and the potential of its national and international linkages.

Nevertheless, what is a matter for concern is that the Government has established a strategic review process (launched yesterday, as reported in this blog), but at the same time appears to be running quite separate strategic decision-making processes that will create a whole list of faits accomplis before this review is even properly under way; and that the two colleges concerned seem to be going along with that. And furthermore, it needs to be stated emphatically that the Irish system of supporting and funding research has been built up carefully to ensure that all decisions on funding are based solely on the excellence of the proposal, in a transparent manner. If there were any deviation from this – for example, if there were any talk of ringfenced funding for this partnership – it would completely undermine that principle and with it the integrity of the system. I am assuming that this is not intended.

For all that, I wish the two colleges well – excellence in higher education is an objective we all share. But we need to ensure that we are not dividing the sector up into different groups, which will make national cooperation for the benefit of Ireland much more difficult. And we need to be vigilant that we are not fatally undermining the role of the Irish Universities Association in the process.

Interesting times ahead!

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One Comment on “Unitrin College Dublin?”

  1. Kenneth Says:

    It is intriguing that the big two are involved in these meetings, but the very fact that I have called them the big 2 (and everyone will recognise who they are) is testament to why the government may be talking to these in a sidebar. Across the water in the UK, Government has traditionally relied on an informal system of consulting Oxbridge and UCL when major national initiatives are afoot, and will broaden it to the Russell Group if they feel it’s right, but dinner party discusisons about major policy change certainly privilege Oxbridge and UCL (the golden triangle).

    I think there are 2 possible reason for this stance by the Irish govt and TCD & UCD – the first is that the government is acting as UK governments have tended to do, and relying on talking to its most famous names to get soundings on SSTI and adding value to the research chain to help get Ireland out of a whole. This would be a departure from Mary Hanafin’s policy of having no firsts among equals, where universities were actively discouraged from soliciting each others’s staff to move to take up posts. Although the other 5 universities are doing very well on a proprtional basis in comparison with TCD & UCD, it would be disingenuous to imagine that the worldwide repuation of the 7 universities is the same. That’s just not the case.

    The second reason is less likely, as it would indicate a degree of planning that is unlikely in such fraught economic times – that is, that we’re about to see significant disciplinary mergers between TCD & UCD. Two ventures spring to mind: the hosting of veterinary training, and pharmacy training solely in UCD & TCD respectively for Dublin (the RCSI inititaive was much later) The argument then was that critical mass was necessary and so having rival schools within these disciplines was wasteful and counterproductive. I think it won’t be long ’til we see one Italian dept in Dublin, for example, and eventually, we’ll probably see one Modern Languages Dept, one Classical Civilisation Dept, and one Theology dept, between TCD & UCD. The schools as they stand don’t seem to be able to exert much influence for such tiny disciplines. I’d welcome such a merger.

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