Trinity provost threatens to cut student numbers

Sally Madden

Picture of Trinity front square

The provost of Trinity College warned that it may need to cut its student numbers in order to regain its previous international ranking.

The suggestion comes amid calls for increased Government funding after TCD dropped 44 places in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

TCD Provost Dr Patrick Prendergast told the Sunday Business Post that State funding per student was down from an average of €9,000 ten years ago, to just over €5,000 today. Meanwhile, student numbers at the college have risen from 8,000 in the 1980s to 18,000.

Dr Prendergast explained the university may have to cut its Irish student numbers by 5 per cent in the next 10 years, but added it would be regretful to do so, saying “we are here to serve all our students.”

President of the Union of Students in Ireland, Lorna Fitzpatrick has said that while third-level education is underfunded, TCD’s suggestion that it may cut student numbers to recover its international ranking is using students as “pawns”.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” she said. Fitzpatrick also added that international rankings can be “problematic because of what they are measuring and how they are measured.”

On Prendergast’s reference to specifically cutting Irish student numbers, Fitzpatrick says that international students are being used as “cash cows,” as they pay higher fees.

Trinity remains the only Irish university in the top 200 of the UK-based Times Higher Education rankings but it has plummeted from 120th place last year to 164th.

A similar fall next year would mean that no Irish university would be ranked in the top 200 in the prestigious Times Higher Education listings.

The rankings are based on a range of measures including the staff to student ratio, research volume, income and influence, links to industry in terms of innovation, inventions and consultancy views and the ability to attract international students and staff.

Irish universities are blaming cuts to funding for the slip in international recognition.

While there has been a €350 million increase in third-level education funding since the publication of the Cassells report on options for future funding of third-level education in 2016, state funding remains 43 per cent below what it was a decade ago. 

However, the number of students attending Irish universities is expected to continue to rise over the coming decade, according to Jim Miley, director-general of the Irish Universities Association (IUA).

“That bulge in student numbers will continue to grow over the next decade with an estimated 40,000 extra students to be catered for by 2030 as compared with 2015.

“In that scenario, the funding problem will get considerably worse unless there’s a significant step-up in investment to support our growing student base.”

“There is now unanimous support for a comprehensive programme of investment amongst employer leaders, unions and students with Ibec, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, USI and Chambers of Commerce, all advocating significantly increased state investment,” he said.

While presenting the IUA’s pre-budget submission to the Oversight Committee on September 17th, Miley made a case for investment in core and capital funding by highlighting the €9 billion that Irish universities contribute to the economy each year.

“Universities are key catalysts of economic growth. Ireland’s economic success is increasingly linked to our capacity to compete globally in a competitive knowledge economy.

“Universities not only deliver on the public good of producing top talent and driving innovation, they also deliver a cash return for the State. This is why investment in universities is an investment in our economic success,” he said.

Sally Madden

Image credit: William  Murphy