TCD to target foreign students

The country’s top university plans to rely on more funding from foreign and online students to reduce its reliance on public funding, a part of its €600m five-year strategy.

Trinity College Dublin aims to reduce the proportion of taxpayer investment in its annual budget of more than €300m from half to 40% by 2019.

The strategic plan proposes to more than double the proportion of all students from outside the EU to 18%, rising to almost 3,000. It is also planned to engage 1,000 students on online programmes, but TCD says these expansions will not affect study opportunities for Irish and EU students.

TCD provost Patrick Prendergast said the plan makes no assumptions of increased fees from Irish undergraduates.

The matter of how much more, if any, students should pay is being considered in a review that is not due to reach the Government until the end of next year.

In the 2014-2019 plan being launched by Taoiseach Enda Kenny today, TCD aims to reach the “upper levels of the top 100” of one world ranking. It dropped 10 places to 71st in the QS ranking last month. Other plans include:

nA new €150m engineering and technology institute, and a €75m cancer institute at St James’s Hospital, both requiring Government funding;

nAn expanded business school, in a planned €70m new home;

nNew residences for 2,000 students, requiring €170m;

nIncreased targets for national and international research funding.

The college aims to do so even though funding from Government has been cut by another 1% in 2015, on top of recent reductions. Since 2009 student numbers have risen by 800 to 17,000, but publicly funded employee numbers are 600 fewer at 2,073.

A new focus is promised on teaching skills of critical thinking, global citizenship, engaging with employers, and integrating extra-curricular learning opportunities for all students.

Mr Prendergast said it is not just funding cuts that are worrying higher education leaders, as restrictions on staffing numbers are also having a negative impact.

“There are insufficient numbers of lecturers to teach the students we have, so the quality students and the parents have a right to expect, that’s where we’re going out of kilter,” he said.

“We can’t hire people in areas where we need to have them. You could have a small department of, say, 10 people and three retirements and you can’t replace them,” the TCD provost said. But, he said, a larger academic department where nobody is lost to retirement, so colleges need to be able to better manage the numbers.

“I can see the Government point of view to reduce public service pay numbers. But in the context of employment and attracting foreign direct investment, that requires talent which the universities can produce,” he said.

The provost believes the employment controls in place for higher education are “penny-wise and pound foolish”.

“We’re aiming to take some control of our destiny by trying to generate [more] non-Exchequer funding. There are huge pressures on the public purse, so we have to recognise what’s happening and plan for the future in a broader way,” he said.

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