For years, Trinity’s critics have been shouting into the wind that commercialisation is a flimsy revenue-generating strategy – and means students end up playing second fiddle to firms collaborating with College.
This week’s news that Trinity’s years-long partnership with Bank of Ireland would be ending next month may have proved them right.
Trinity has for the most part ignored concerns about commercialisation and, conversely, tended to count on its commercial income to compensate for a state unwilling to fund the third-level sector.
When the times were good, the strategy paid dividends. In 2017, College suggested that Trinity was on track to meet its target of generating €33 million in 2020/21 through commercial activity – and it was.
The Book of Kells alone was bringing in around €12 million a year to the college and the Summer Series had become an annual source of income for the college over the summer months.
But when the times go bad the strategy’s shortcomings are inescapable and painfully felt by College’s coffers and the wider college community.
In May, this newspaper reported that Trinity is set to lose up to €40 million in commercial revenue this year alone in the coronavirus fallout. The Book of Kells has been closed since March and the Summer Series cancelled. Now Bank of Ireland – with its sponsorship in tow – is also leaving campus.
With the sector still in the throes of a funding crisis and a nation facing a recession, Trinity’s attempts at commercialisation are back to square one. Commercialisation has only ever been a plaster over an open wound. This has become abundantly clear, and may – unfortunately – become even clearer in the coming months and years.
Though the sudden end of the partnership might bring the sweet pleasure of an “I told you so” moment for some, ultimately, it portends the dark times ahead.
A number of partnerships are going to collapse in the coming months: universities that have come to rely on commercial income will be forced to reckon with its inherent instability.