Comment & Analysis
Feb 2, 2020

In College’s Strategic Plan, an Unspoken Priority: Rankings

Many of the policies College intends to pursue in the next five years appear specifically designed to arrest a series of rankings slumps.

By The Editorial Board

This week, students had their first glimpse of Trinity’s new strategic plan, which promises to overhaul many aspects of College life.

The document contains a raft of promises, such as moderately increasing student numbers, attracting more capital investment and placing sustainability at the centre of Trinity’s mission.

While these are all admirable goals that are likely to improve the student experience, some of the aims seem tailored towards improving something else: Trinity’s place in international rankings.


By now, everyone knows about Trinity’s long-term rankings decline. It’s unsurprising, then, that the College’s plan of action for the next half-decade seems geared towards not only improving the student experience, but to scrambling back up the global pecking order.

Take postgraduate students: they’re a cohort that has long felt neglected. But now, PhD students and researchers are suddenly being promised an “enhanced” experience, including better stipends and scholarships and an overall increase in numbers.

Given that quality research is key to determining rankings, this newfound attentiveness to attracting postgraduates makes sense.

Student–staff ratio is another indicator of how universities fare in rankings – Provost Patrick Prendergast himself admitted that the best universities have a ratio of roughly 10:1. And, what do you know: the new strategic plan outlines College’s intention to lower the ratio from 18:1 to 16:1, at the not-inconsequential price of €29 million.

The document also has an unmistakably international focus, with plans to build upon the College’s network of global links, implement more programmes like the Columbia dual-degree and invest in improving student mobility. Once again, hardly a coincidence: having international presence and a multicultural student population are among the best guarantors for boosting a university’s position in the rankings.

Trinity fell 44 places to its lowest ever position of 164th in the Times Higher Education Rankings last year, so it’s surely no bad thing that decision-makers in College are aiming to rectify this in the coming years. What is less obvious in light of the strategic plan, though, is whether Prendergast’s sentiment that rankings are “reductive” is shared in the upper echelons of the College, or indeed whether it was genuine in the first place.