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Trinity lights the way forward

"Trinity has produced more entrepreneurs than any other university in Europe."

Interview with Dr Patrick Prendergast, Provost and President, Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin


Tell us about your university.

Trinity is located in a stunning historic campus in the heart of Dublin’s city centre–it’s Ireland’s highest ranked university and one of the world’s top 100, and also one of the world’s oldest universities, founded in 1592. We’re multidisciplinary and this is reflected in the rich, diverse achievements of our alumni who include three Nobel Laureates: Samuel Beckett in literature, Ernest Walton in physics and William C Campbell in medicine, as well as the political thinker Edmund Burke and the former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Mary Robinson.

You’ve just received a major donation from Atlantic Philanthropies. How did this come about?

Yes, the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) is one of Atlantic Philanthropies’ five legacy projects before the foundation closes down activities. It’s a 15-year programme between Trinity and the University of California. GBHI will train global leaders in brain health by the rapid translation of research into policy. Trinity has been awarded about US$72 million, one of the most generous grants for a single project anywhere in the world.

This benefaction came about through the vision of Atlantic Philanthropies’ single benefactor, Charles F Feeney, whose philosophy of “Giving while Living” has inspired Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Atlantic Philanthropies chose Trinity because we are world leaders in neuroscience and research into ageing. Trinity leads the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), which allows researchers from numerous disciplines–including epidemiology, neuroscience, social policy, psychology, economics, nursing–to collate research to develop a full understanding of ageing in all its aspects.

GBHI puts particular focus on translating research. How is Trinity positioned for this?

We’re strong on frontier research and on applied research and we don’t differentiate too much: all applied research started out as frontier, and all researchers want to see their discoveries applied. Since 2008 we’ve averaged seven spin-out companies a year, many of them very successful. Innovation is essential for an ageing population; the World Health Organization estimates that by 2050 there will be more than two billion people aged over 60, most of them in the developed world. Countries will need to draw on expert research to put in place policies, products and services to deal with this demographic change. Trinity will play a leading role.

How does Trinity encourage innovation?

We’ve focused strongly on this over the past decade, with the aim of incorporating innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity into the way we research and educate. We’ve proactively enabled technology transfer, corporate partnership and knowledge exchange; and through our business incubator, LaunchBox, we provide students with seed funding and mentoring to grow their business ideas. We’re also using our pivotal location in the heart of Dublin city to catalyse the arts; we’ve launched an open competition, the Trinity Creative Challenge, inviting artists to propose interdisciplinary projects with a Trinity focus. The five winning projects will be shown in college in April 2016; they include performance, visual art, music, film, design, animation, and gaming.

Our college initiatives are having effect. The private equity research firm, PitchBook, has published the results of its independent survey. Over the past five years, Trinity has produced more entrepreneurs than any other university in Europe. Our combination of interdisciplinary research capability with innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity is potent and justifies Atlantic Philanthropies’ faith in us. I’m excited about the products, policies and services that will emerge from Trinity over the next few years, and about educating the next generation in the skills that Ireland, and the world, needs most. 

Sponsored by 

www.tcd.ie

©OECD Observer No 305 January 2016