Ireland’s oldest university is proposing an end to all physical lectures for larger classes, reducing the numbers of staff working on campus and turning existing labs into student accommodation.
A radical ‘confidential’ plan, Trinity Futures Discussions Paper, obtained by the, represents the most fundamental change in the university experience in living memory, proposing the sale of surplus parts of the historic campus.
The document states that a “Smart Working Model” seeks to deliver “more flexibility as to where, how and when staff do their jobs.
"Smart working would include both working from home full-time, or part-time (hybrid working) and potentially working flexibly in an off-campus Trinity Hub (hub-working),” the document states.
The plan also alludes to academics being given meeting spaces rather than retaining permanent offices. It says historic campus buildings vacated as a result of smart working could be repurposed to residential units, meeting room hubs or other spaces.
Some buildings could be disposed of, with profits from the sale reinvested into refurbishment projects and/or creating the off-campus hub, whilst other buildings could be demolished to make way for new developments.
Leading academics, speaking privately, have expressed their “grave concern” at the ending of centuries of learning practices.
“We are proposing to turn Ireland’s leading university into an online college,” said one.
The 23-page document makes a number of key recommendations which include “moving all large class lectures (>100) to online delivery so that large lecture theatres can be reconfigured to facilitate collaborative learning".
It says the university currently occupies c. 319,000m2 of space and approximately 37,750m2 is used for office space and functional support for academic and professional services departments.
“Universities are generally poor users of space but Smart Working could improve effective use of the Trinity estate and prompt the transition from a traditional campus to a connected campus,” the document states.
The proposal states that Smart Working will reduce the number of staff based full-time on campus at any one time and this offers an opportunity to reimagine how space is designed, adapted and used.
“For staff engaged in hybrid working (with a reduced proportion of their working week based on campus), provision of space to connect with their colleagues on campus will be more important than a dedicated office,” it states.
The document also forecasts that within the next 10 years, it is estimated that scientists will spend 20% less time in the laboratory due to automation, data analytics and iLab approaches to share expertise, equipment and resources.
The document states that the “principles” of Smart Working say it is about taking a comprehensive and strategic approach to innovative working practices across the university and is based on the fact that work takes place at the most effective locations and at the most effective times, respecting the needs of the task, the individual, the team and University requirements.
The plan also states that space is allocated to activities, not individuals and not on the basis of seniority and “A Flexibility First” approach where flexibility is the norm rather than the exception.
The document states that the potential benefits of adopting Smart Working include: less time commuting and reduced impact on the environment; people having more choice about when, where and how they work, supported and connected by effective and appropriate use of technology.
It also states that Smart Working will mean people have the opportunity to lead more balanced and healthier lives. The costs and environmental impacts of work are reduced as space is shared and used more intensively, the document states.
It concludes by saying ‘Smart Working’ is essentially about people and culture change. It is about bringing about flexibility in the way people work, and empowering them to work in smarter ways.
The plan says that for some staff, working from home may be conducive to Smart Working. An additional approach is to consider an off-campus hub to provide modern, flexible, collaborative and efficient space, it states.
“There may be an opportunity for Trinity to issue an ‘expression of interest’ to explore potential partnerships with local authorities to procure a building that could be used as a Trinity Hub. This could be of benefit to staff to move closer to the Hub and reduce commuting times or to relocate and allow equity release from their property due to relocating outside of Dublin,” the plan states.
The Trinity Futures Group does not recommend a move towards a fully online undergraduate degree but does propose a move to a so-called ‘flipped classroom’ which incorporates pre-class assignments and in-class learning activities.
“Online materials are provided and the timetabled class is then devoted to reinforcing and enhancing the students’ online learning, using group work, demonstrations and peer-to-peer learning,” the document states.