Trinity’s top officers have set up an emergency group that’s currently preparing measures to manage the financial risks to the College of the coronavirus pandemic, amid fears of a revenue drop-off amounting to hundreds of millions, The University Times has learned.
The three-person group will feature the vice-provost, chief financial officer and chief operating officer, according to an email sent to heads of school and faculty deans last Friday.
Trinity has already implemented a recruitment freeze on staff hiring due to the “significant financial consequences” of the coronavirus. It’s not yet clear what other steps the group will seek to take in order to offset the College’s financial losses.
Friday’s email, sent by Provost Patrick Prendergast and seen by The University Times, said individual schools will be asked to manage the return to College of staff on May 18th – when the first stage of Ireland’s re-opening starts – so lecturers can pick up materials to organise online teaching.
“It is important to note that there will not be a complete return of all staff on 18 May”, Prendergast wrote.
The recruitment freeze – which will not affect the appointments of chair professors that are already in the pipeline – will be overseen by a four-person recruitment group, which will “manage the exceptions in the recruitment freeze”, Prendergast said.
And he added that a Trinity Futures Group – reported on by this newspaper last week – will look “at what opportunities, and constraints, there will be” as a result of the current crisis.
Trinity will go off government advice when it comes to making decisions about the re-opening of the College, he said, “taking into account Trinity’s own priorities and with due consideration of what can we do logistically, bearing in mind issues such as social distancing”.
Prendergast wrote that he and College Secretary John Coman, who also signed the email, “are both aware of the unusual and difficult situation many staff are working under in these challenging times”.
“We hope that, as we work together as a community, we will adjust to our ‘new normal’.”
Prendergast has been vocal in recent weeks about the significant financial difficulties Trinity is set to run into as a result of the coronavirus, and about the need for government support to mitigate the drop-off in third-level revenue.
Speaking to Pat Kenny on Newstalk last month, he urged the government “as a matter of urgency” to step in and offset universities’ financial losses.
Asked about the inevitability of education being deprioritised by the government in difficult economic circumstances, Prendergast said that “education shouldn’t be way down the list. Education should be on the top of the list”.
“We’d be saying it’s just not good enough that education – third-level, secondary or primary – should be way down the list.”