Comment & Analysis
Mar 27, 2017

The Race to be Ireland’s Top Business School

Kate Lawler assesses the challenges that Trinity faces if it's to become home to Ireland's best business school.

Kate LawlerColumnist
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TCD Photo

With construction of Trinity’s new business school well underway, it has become evident that the battle to obtain educational excellence in the provision of business degrees is most definitely a race to the top. Over the past couple of months, both Trinity and University College Cork (UCC) have announced their plans for the futures of their respective business schools.

Traditionally, University College Dublin (UCD) has been considered to be the top provider of internationally renowned business degrees in Ireland, far outperforming Trinity in global rankings. The UCD Michael Smurfit School of Business ranks 70th in the Financial Times’ Global MBA rankings and last year, UCD College of Business ranked 29th in Europe. Currently, neither Trinity nor UCC appear in these rankings. UCD’s superiority in its business school rankings is largely linked to the fact that it has always focused on both the provision of internationally respected courses and its efforts to increase the registration of international students on its business courses. This emphasis on internationalisation is frequently quoted at the UCD graduation ceremonies delivered by the Dean of the College of Business, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh.

However, the future of UCD College of Business’ status is under threat. With the announcement of both Trinity and UCC’s strategic plans for the development of new business schools, it is evident that there is now a race between Irish universities to attract more business students and to compete on the international stage.

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A few weeks ago at the Cork University Business School Conference, President of UCC, Patrick O’Shea, announced his plans to build a new business school, one that he stated is set to be one of the biggest in the country. The new school is to be constructed at the current Cork Savings Bank building on Lapp’s Quay purchased by UCC last year for €5 million. Both O’Shea and Prof Ciarán Murphy, Dean of Cork University Business School, outlined their desire to compete internationally and increase entrepreneurship among the business students at UCC. Significant reference was also made to the level of ambition and talent among the students at UCC Business School and how the future is about providing for these students so that they can become some of the best Irish business graduates.

It would seem that the future of the provision of business programmes is rooted in entrepreneurship and Burke’s plan for Trinity is in line with this

Here at Trinity, a similar strategic plan has been outlined. Prof Andrew Burke, Dean of Trinity Business School, wants to create a well-rounded internationally acclaimed business programme at Trinity. Its development, valued at €70 million, has begun at the former site of Luce Hall and is due to be completed in 2018. Burke has an outstanding track record when it comes to progressing business programmes so that they are better adapted for and can cater to the ever-changing climate of the business world. At the core of his seven-year plan, he wants to switch the focus of business academics teaching in the Trinity Business School from academic research to the education of students.

It would seem that the future of the provision of business programmes is rooted in entrepreneurship and Burke’s plan for Trinity is in line with this. Just as Provost Patrick Prendergast has promoted student entrepreneurship by supporting initiatives such as Launchbox, Burke believes the integration of research and practical work is needed to compete internationally. Speaking to The University Times in February 2016, Burke outlined his plan to have, in seven years time, the school be internationally respected and esteemed, pushing the school towards achieving the main accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and Equis which would allow for it to segue ideally into the top 50 in the Financial Times’ business school rankings.

Indeed, speaking at the address marking the midpoint of his term as Provost, Prendergast, referring to UCD, stated “a city needs two successful business schools”, asking the crowd: “Who believes UCD would have invested in the Smurfit school if we hadn’t invested in business?”

In addition to this, Trinity has introduced several new courses to increase its status as a university with a strong reputation for its business degrees. In 2017, a MSc in human resources will commence and in September 2018, a MSc in operations and supply chain management is due to have its first intake of students.

The hindrance of the setup we have in Ireland is obvious from the fact that the Irish government imposes a strict cap on salaries to Deans

However, most notably is Trinity Business School’s renewed focus on straight business. For years, one of the only avenues to study business at Trinity was through the business economics and social studies (BESS) course. While students could eventually choose to study business exclusively during their final years, for the first two years, the business element of the course was studied among many other elements. Now, incoming students to Trinity have the opportunity to study a specialist business degree with the introduction of the Bachelor in business studies. This course offers the chance to study abroad, complete an internship and also study a language. As is the case with Trinity’s Business School’s strategic plan as a whole, the Bachelor in business studies is aimed to increase the number of international students studying at Trinity and also to render us more globally competitive.

While it would seem Trinity is en route to having a business school with a more esteemed reputation, there are still obstacles. At the root of these problems is the lack of government spending in higher education in Ireland. At this stage, we are well in the midst of the funding crisis. State funding to Irish universities has dropped dramatically in recent years and this has been mirrored by dramatic drops in world university rankings. At the most basic level, university rankings are inextricably linked to funding. In order to be considered real contenders in the race for establishing the best business school in Ireland, we need to change the way we are financed. Presently, efforts are underway to adapt a more American approach to fundraising. This involves tapping into our widespread alumni network, increasing the registration of international students and increasing commercial activities. Creating a top-level institute requires money, and a lot of it. If we don’t have the funds, we simply won’t have the prestige.

Even if we look to the UK, the situation is quite different. In Ireland, universities are as such micro-managed by the government. Whereas in the UK, universities are government-owned but run as not-for-profit organisations. The hindrance of the setup we have in Ireland is obvious from the fact that the Irish government imposes a strict cap on salaries to Deans. Prof Burke pinpoints this as a major challenge in transforming Trinity into a world-renowned university for business. The university cannot attract the top minds in business to work here if the salaries on offer are not competitive. Ultimately, this type of government regulation takes Trinity out of the race. Without hiring the top professionals in the field, competing at the top level is a virtual impossibility.

The increased investment into developing new business schools, especially at Trinity, is promising for the emergence of Ireland as a centre for business excellence. However, in order to get there, the university must overcome the funding crisis and figure out a way to move forward with the relationship between the state and universities.

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