Running university is serious business for Trinity’s provost

Patrick Prendergast is well aware of the importance of money in education and of having a good business model

Patrick Prendergast: “Government investment in higher education has come under more pressure due to austerity. To maintain the quality of our education, we’ve had to find other ways to make up the difference in our income.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Patrick Prendergast: “Government investment in higher education has come under more pressure due to austerity. To maintain the quality of our education, we’ve had to find other ways to make up the difference in our income.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Fri, Nov 29, 2013, 01:00

Educators often bristle at the thought of evaluating universities as businesses, and incorporating business models into higher education, but Trinity College Dublin provost Patrick Prendergast is different.

While he is quick to point out the main function of a university is to educate, he recognises the importance of money and having a good business model. Like other businesses, TCD must also analyse revenue and expenses, allocate money appropriately and balance its books.

“It costs €300 million a year to run the institution. Generally speaking that cost has been rising. We have had ruthless cost-cutting throughout the organisation and, with salary cuts, we have seen a dip in the total spend of the university.”

Prendergast, who was a professor of bio-engineering at the college before being elected as provost, says half of Trinity’s money comes from government, while the rest is private funding from student fees, investment income, philanthropy and alumni donations.

“Government investment in higher education has come under more pressure due to austerity. To maintain the quality of our education, we’ve had to find other ways to make up the difference in our income. Alumni fundraising and friends of the college is a big source of income, less than 10 per cent, but still important.”

“Funding that comes indirectly from endowment, which is Trinity’s investment fund, would be about 2 per cent of our annual recurrent spend. It is an important objective to increase endowment income because that’s the way to secure the future of universities around the world and Trinity is no exception.”

He says the Trinity endowment is vital to the financial stability of the college, as it reduces the university’s dependency on State funding.

Fortunately, the market value of the endowment is on the rise, increasing from €120 million in 2008 to €144 million this year, achieving a total return of 11.7 per cent for the year to June 30th last.

Like every business, TCD is constantly monitoring its image and branding, and, in recent months, has been carrying out a review.

Prendergast says third-level institutions such as Oxford, Harvard, Yale and the Sorbonne all have global brands, but Trinity doesn’t. The university is exploring tinkering with its historic logo and title, with any changes expected to be brought in before the launch of TCD’s strategic plan next year.

“I personally think Trinity is a key word and a very successful name. One of the issues we face globally is that the word college often is used to mean secondary school. When we work in Asia, we have to emphasise University of Dublin as there is confusion.”

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