Provost Patrick Prendergast has defended the College’s record on philanthropy and commercialisation, insisting that relying on government funding would mean that “everything would have continued to tumble down”.
Speaking frankly about the state of public funding in an address to staff and students, Prendergast said that his goals – “Plan A” – upon taking office were based on an assumption that state funding would increase for the higher education sector.
Prendergast, however, said: “I would like to be able to stick with plan A, but I’m glad I didn’t.” “Everything would have continued to tumble down”, he said.
Prendergast called himself “a believer” in publicly funded education system, and said the College is “lobbying hard for publicly funded education”.
He maintained, however, that his role as Provost is “not to jump up and down making a political statement”. Instead, he said the College has “taken hold of our own destiny”.
He put the current state of funding down to the “democratic process”.
Emphasising that “I mightn’t like it and you mightn’t like it”, Prendergast stressed that he had, nevertheless, tried to create new streams of funding.
When asked about the recently launched Irish Universities Association (IUA) Save Our Spark campaign and whether it was the right step for the higher education sector, Prendergast endorsed the campaign.
During an address at the midpoint of his provostship in 2016, Prendergast said “fees, philanthropy and commercial activities” are the future of third-level education.
“The decrease in state funding was our groundhog day”, Prendergast said at the time.
Prendergast was challenged on the increase in student numbers and how this would impact the quality of education and the College’s standing in the rankings. He said that while the student-to-staff ratio had improved – standing at around 18 to 1 – it was “still not as low as it should be”. Ussher staff posts had helped improve the staff numbers, he said, making up around 10 per cent of staff.
An audience member asked Prendergast about the balance between basic and industry-driven research, receiving a fervent response in favour of increased public funding for more fundamental research. “We’re not fuelling the system that will provide the biggest discoveries”, Prendergast said.