Tag Archives: TCD

Missing – Irish World Heritage Sites

album_anh-3Why do we have so few, only in fact three on the island as a whole (Skellig, Bru na Boinne, and Giant’s Causeway)? Some other sites are tentative, but the situation to be honest seems stalled. Great. Much talk is made of the government “campaigning” for sites but the reality is that there is no need to campaign – its not a competition. Its an administrative issue – do you hit some, not necessarily all, of the criteria.  The process is pretty clear. So why dont we have more?  Continue reading

Irish Business Schools – Rankings 2015

Rankings are like the closing days of Gay Byrne’s tenure in the Late Late Show. There is one for everybody in the Audience. A new ranking has been gaining ground recently, Eduniversal Ranking, based mostly on interviews. Irish Business Schools are doing quite well. Continue reading

Knowledge Transfer Ireland – Partial, Error ridden and Naïve


Knowledge is only useful if people know it exists. So it is great to see Knowledge Transfer Ireland established, to start to allow organizations and individuals to seek out the knowledge in Irish third level institutions.

At least , it would be if it worked. . It doesnt

Look first at economics. Inputting “economics”  we see on the front page (how is this ranked? Is it random? ) my good self and we also see Richard J Tol as economics in TCD. I am in the Business school and work in Finance. He is in Sussex, and has been for some considerable time.

I apparently have 31 publications (an undercount by at least an order of three if we look at just peer reviewed publications and by seven fold if we look at all publications).  If we look at the TCD research system record we see nearly all my publications. If we look at google scholar, to which the KTI system neatly provides a link we see a pretty full record again.  The system misclassifies my research interest,  and it misses most of my research output. This alone tells me, straight out the box, that KTI is next to useless.

Looking at the TCD Economics profile of experts, again it’s a mess. It contains (some) of the people who actually work there; it also contains people who work in the Central Bank, a whole bunch of ESRI folk, a smattering of people in TCD in areas as disparate as law, sociology, business, sports science….

A quick glance at the other universities shows similar problems.

It proudly states that it “ automatically builds expert profiles from publication output, patent submissions and funding attainment. .Aficionado is unique in that it never asks an expert to create or maintain a profile on our system.“ and that’s a problem. If they are going to just trawl open access archives (as they seem to do) then they cannot present that as remotely like a full picture of any research endeavour. It seems that they have, as so often in Ireland, tried to do it on the cheap. Bibliometric databases abound and a decent system would use all of them, firewalled and open, to build a picture. Not here.  Beyond that the data are presented in a whizzbang graphics rich mode that is devoid of any hint of bibliometric or other analysis. Every paper is the same as every other. A raw paper count is produced but there is no sense of quality in any sense.


This portal may well be an accurate representation of the STEM areas researchers and research profile. The thrust of the thing seems to be towards that area – leaving aside the fact that the centers of global excellence in Irish universities is in Arts, Humanities and Social Studies –  but the data seem to me to be so patchy, poorly presented and flawed as to make it useless.  If it is merely meant to be for STEM patentable  right-now commercial research then say so. We know that AHSS research is not valued, so lets be upfront.  This exercise has been supported by the taxpayer via Enterprise Ireland, launched by the government via Richard Bruton and its shoddy.



Bureaucracy, LEAD-ing to Mistrust, in the University sector

clayton-house_3483Bureaucracy is like Kudzu – it s invasive, persistent, useful in small doses but when unchecked it is destructive and self-perpetuating even when it engulfs that which was supporting it.  Take the LEAD programme designed for Irish universities. LEAD stands for Living Equality and Diversity, and it’s an online programme designed for all staff in Irish universities. The press release describes it thusly

The LEAD programme is a self-paced modular learning tool that features an intuitive navigation system with core content split into five modules of learning.  Module topics cover ‘Understanding diversity’, ‘What’s it got to do with you?’, ‘From compliance to commitment’, ‘Recruitment and Selection’ and ‘Dignity and Respect’.  Each section contains video and multimedia stories and scenarios including interviews with university staff and students, interactive games and quizzes, and online instant assessments to offer staff valuable feedback on their learning.  By using this interactive and multimedia resource, staff will have the opportunity to consider and reflect on the part they play in building an inclusive culture across the university sector.

It takes between one (TCD) and two( UCC) hours, we are told, to go through this. All the aims, to promote diversity and to dignity, to ensure that people are treated as people, not as exemplars of ethnic or other groups, that’s a fantastic set to aim for. Its one that I would love to see becoming the norm in society, more so as a member of a multi-ethnic family.  TCD are making participation in this compulsory for all staff on interview panels. The various equality offices in the universities have wordings that suggest that all staff are in its ambit. Ok. So, what’s the problem?

First, the thing is inconsistent.  It is inherently itself not respectful of diversity. All staff, regardless, are treated the same.  There are a diversity of views on diversity. Some are more obnoxious than others, but they do exist. Do we serve well those populations towards whom the diversity initiative is aimed by ensuring that everyone else is the homogenous in their views and aims and interactions? It also would seem rather odd for all staff, regardless of past expertise or experience, to have to do this. When we treat everyone as a problem that’s a problem.

Second, there is a presumption of a problem that must be solved by a bureaucratic imposition. This is the norm now in the university sector. All problems of running complex organizations can be solved by enough large-scale top down interventions designed for all at all times. The result is  a bland homogenization and the growth of a kudzu of bureaucracy. In the UK the classic example of this is the requirement for everyone, regardless of teaching quality ex facto, to be sheepdipped into a variety of third level pedagogic training courses. TCD, and I suspect we are not alone in this, has a ‘one size fits nobody’ undergraduate course evaluation form, so bland and generic as to be meaningless in content and usefulness. The latter two represent blanket solutions to particular problems – some lecturers cant. Rather than focused interventions where a demonstrated problem exists a generic solution requiring a bureaucratic cadre is imposed on all.

Third, its costly. There are 13,812 employees in Irish universities as of 2012.  4,229 are academics. The OECD calculates that  on average in 2010 the total annual  per student spend across all categories of expenditure was just over $16,000. Assuming a 50h working week (which is what the data suggest) then we have an hourly cost of $6.66.  Pushing this across the sector and allowing 1-5h to complete the programme we find a  cost of just under $140,000. Small enough in the context of the total spend but is it justifiable? Was it even costed? Far too often these initiatives are put in place without regard to the cost.

Fourth, in TCD at least, the rule is that if one has not undertaken the LEAD program then one cannot sit on interview panels. This is doubly problematic. First, the incentive is NOT to take this programme. Not taking it means less work.  We often find this with bureaucratic micromanagement. It creates the bureaucratic equivalent of what Frederick the Great noted on war: he who bureaucratically organized to micromanage everything manages nothing. Second, and I am sure that this is the case in every university, HR representatives sit on all interview panels in TCD and are involved in the advertising and shortlisting. Of candidates. They are there explicitly to ensure that HR law and best practice, including one assumes issues around diversity and respect, are adhered to . Thus in the recruitment issue at least there is no clear need for this. Its part of a  growing creeping mistrust of colleagues. Academics cannot be trusted to do their work without bureaucratic oversight and micromanagement. How things are arranged are more and more direct oversight or standardization of processes. In organizational structure terms this leads to one of two outcomes. If direct supervision prevails we get centralized organizations. If process outcomes dominate we get a machine bureaucracy where technocrats dominate.  Looking at Irish universities we see this trend. As academic, technical and research staff are the operating core we need to seize back control, which leads to vertical and horizontal decentralization and a professional organization that trusts us. We know, for decades, from the work of Oiuchi that when tasks are ill-defined (“teach” , “research” … what could be fuzzier than that) and outcomes hard to measure that horizontal, flat organizations deliver better outcomes all round. t

LEAD has great aims. The flaws above don’t invalidate them. They merely serve to show how far things have slipped in Irish universities, where staff are not trusted and bureaucratic processes run rampant.

The history of the Arms of Trinity College Dublin

The controversy on the rebranding, aka identity initiative, in TCD rolls on. There is an open forum meeting today for all to come and share their views. My position has been made clear here and here.

A week or so ago Professor John Scattergood, the Pro-Chancellor of the University (yes, dear hearts, The University of Dublin has and does exist with but one constituent college…) produced a memo on the arms for the Fellows of Trinity College. That memo is, with his permission, available here :  Arms and Trinity.

Dr Scattergood, in an email to me, stresses “It is very incomplete (I had to write it in three days from what materials were immediately available)”. Thus it should be read in that light. It is, I understand, incomplete in some details but NOT in overall thrust. The document is well worth reading.

Further thoughts on TCD rebranding








The TCD re branding issue rolls on. There is  a meeting planned for Friday, an open forum style. It will be interesting to hear what developments have happened. Since my last post some further thoughts have come to me. So is it out with the old and in with the new?

There is an argument advanced that we need to change our name, as shown to the world. People, it seems, cannot understand that we as a college are a university. Somehow the lack of ‘university’ in our name is a bar to students.  I think that this fails at the first hurdle. One doesn’t have to like the rankings race to use it. The THES world university rankings for 2014 are instructive. In the top 100 we see: California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, University College London, Georgia Institute of Technology, London School of Economics, Karolinska Institute, Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne,  Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Ecole Normal Superieure. 20% of the top 50 are in the same non-university-name boat as TCD. I seriously doubt that they are concerned at the lack of the word “university” in their name.  I doubt that they are concerned that people will look at LSE’s name and go “hmm…. Is that a world-class third level institution or a school?”  The implication is that students in China, for that is where the argument lies we are told, cannot distinguish. We would want to wonder if we want these anyhow.  Much high-end chinese consumption is of what might be called Veblen goods, or snob goods, conspicuous consumption designed to show that one can.  Leading university ‘brands’ can fall into this category.

A further argument is that while the students don’t get confused their employers will, not knowing that Trinity College Dublin is a university. From talking to people on the front-line of exports the greater problem in China is that many are unaware of where and what Ireland is.  That’s not something TCD can change. The old US saw was “how will it play in Peoria”. We now need to be concerned it seems as to “how will it play in Puyang”. This presupposes of course that we want it to play there.  Chinese students play an important role in Irish universities, at all levels. I have had and have now exceptionally good Chinese students in the MSc and PhD, ad know others have also. However, as a group overall they make up a vanishingly small percentage of students. The latest HEA figures give the full-time equivalent as follows : DCU 0.58%,  NUIG 0.43%,  NUIM 0.79%,  TCD 0.64%,  UCC 1.56%,  UCD 1.84%,  UL 1.00%. We can perhaps apply a x2 correction factor to the level to the numbers to get to fee impact but then we need to rebate that by the % of university income that comes from fees and fee waiver. Lets say that perhaps between 1-2% of university income may come from Chinese students.  That’s a small tail to be wagging a large dog.  To stake a strategy that affects all now and in the future on a small group which even if it were to show massive growth would still only amount to a small group would seem to be putting the cart before the horse.

In any case, the chasing the Chinese game is one that all universities are playing.  We might be better off looking to expand in other areas such as Latin America,  Sub-Saharan Africa, or MENA. An OECD 2010 study looked at the emergent global middle class, and these areas, while smaller than East Asia, are expected to show high levels of growth. Lets ask “how will it play in Pretoria” or “how will it play in Porto Alegre”. Lets try to entice more students from areas that are closer culturally and geographically and lets not get lost in the herd of the 1000’s of other universities chasing the chinese market.

College is, for good or ill, both ancient and modern. We are unique in Ireland and amongst the few in the world in the span of time over which we have operated.  We should celebrate this in how we project ourselves to the world. The new logo does nothing to indicate that we are a member of the Coimbra group; it does nothing to indicate that we are a Tudor foundation; it is at best bland and at worst looks like a dodgy app downloaded from an off-piste store.  Manchester in their rebranding cunningly incorporated their founding date. Where in the new logo does it suggest that TCD is 400+years old? Nowhere. Compare the two logos…





Screenshot 2014-03-30 09.42.37






We lose small but important elements of history in the focus group formed blandness that is the proposal. For instance, we have removed the portcullis from the castle. Compare  the two below


Screenshot 2014-04-02 16.22.47



Screenshot 2014-04-02 16.24.05






This may seem small but the portcullis was the badge of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty whose last member Elizabeth I was the founder of the college. It seems reasonable to me that the founder’s arms might be retained in part. Doing so is not to in any way approve or disapprove of their politico-historical activities. It is to recognize that we are a Tudor foundation.

cambridgeWe have removed the clasped bible from the shield and replaced it with an open book, to show we are open. This issue seems not to worry Cambridge, whose coat of arms shows a similar closed book.  If we are to have an open book then we should endeavour to have 1592 inscribed therein to remind people that we are an older university.There is also a perception that the objective is to secularise the shield. Leaving aside the incongruity of a college named after a particular deity trying to secularise part of its identity, a glance at the coats of arms and public logotypes of ancient universities shows a plethora of religious motifs.  I warrant that in Heidelberg, or Salamanca or Coimbra they are not concerned about the overt particular religious symbolism on their logos. Nor should we be. We should instead use this as an example of how we can evolve from an explicitly religious foundation to a modern open university.

On the towers of the castle of the previous shield we saw two red flags – these are now gone replaced by blocky dark icons. The previous standards were the cross of St George and St Patrick’s saltire. Again, for no good reason historical significance has been lost. The  meaning of the two flags together was to represent unity. We should use this as showing that we have as a college been a bridge for the many traditions of this state throughout centuries.  Instead it is down the memory hole with it….

Top-100-brand-logosWe have changed the colours from blue and gold to blue and white. There is a frankly risible argument that blue and gold is confusable with the blue and yellow of brands such as Ryanair, Ikea Walmart etc.. It is seen, we are told,  as cheap. Leaving aside some of their more unpleasant practices, if TCD were to be confusable in its space with the world leaders of Walmart, Ryanair and Visa we would be in a much better place than we are now. Blue and white is to be used. Will we now be confused with Sherry Fitzgerald, Boots, Cadburys,  Danone or Sprite or Axa?  In parenthesis, the blue and white colour palate is heavily used in the corporate world. A look at the Interbrand top 100 will show this clearly. Some persons might well see moving us towards this palate as a subliminal move to a more corporate look.

Flag_President_of_Ireland.svgThe colours as per the previous crest also have historical significance. The crest of the Tudor Kingdom of Ireland (recall we are a Tudor foundation) was a golden harp on an blue background, an evolution of earlier normal influenced Irish crests and badges. That is why we have the colours of the original shield, and this palette is retained (without any concerns around confusion with value brands) in the presidential (previously royal) standard of Ireland .  The new harp also eliminates the shamrock that was in profile on the previous one, again seemingly without any rationale. Screenshot 2014-04-02 16.50.21





A final argument used by some, not thankfully in TCD, is that for a rebrand €100k is not much. It may not be for some but for a cash starved deficit running univeristy its a good chunk of money. As paper never refused ink no consultant ever refused commission. Spending this money, tampering with a brand that has stood the test of time in the hope that it might attract some more Chinese students, that seems wrongheaded. It does nothing to advance teaching and learning excellence, nothing to advance research excellence, adds nothing to the student experience. In that context, its a waste of money.

Rebranding TCD

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this rebranding. Part of me says great, look at things with a fresh eye. A greater part of me says that its a monstrous waste of time and money (about €100k we are told).

TCD, Trinity College Dublin, is a brand. Its one that has stood the test of time for literal centuries. It is, along with a very few others, one of the few global brands we have for Ireland. We are told that we have to change the name to Trinity College, The University of Dublin, as people in Chindia get confused. Hmmm. Do they get confused as to what MIT is ? Or Caltech? I doubt it. They may be momentarily confused as to whether it is an independent university or not but is that reason enough to meddle with something that is time proven? I have not seen any evidence adduced, mere assertion, that this is a problem in recruiting Chindian students.  Call me old fashioned but I would like evidence.

Its worse. Leavign rankings aside its useful for people who wish to find research to know where you are working. Bibliographic databases, such as Web of Science and Scopus and so on work on institutional affiliations. Now about 75% of all TCD work is labelled Trinity College Dublin. So that will remain as it is for all outward facing activity. But out in Chindia we will be Trinity College the University of Dublin. Presumably the confusion as to what exactly TCD is and was will now be replaced by confusion as to why nobody from TCDTUD is publishing (but gosh them lads in TCD seem very active).

And then theres the crest. We are to go from a longstanding (but with no certainty as to when it actually formalised) crest to a new one. John Scattergood presented to the Fellows a long, detailed, arcane and fascinating presentation on the various arms, crests and armorials of the college and the university.  We are now to move from this longstanding, widely used and ancient looking crest to one that frankly looks like it was created in MS Paint. Theres a bizarre argument from the brand consultants that we need to move from yellow and blue as it represents “value” (as if that was bad) brands such as Ryanair and Ikea. If TCD were as successful in its field as they are in theirs then I would be a happy camper…
This is the present shield…. doesn’t it just scream CHEAP !! CHEAP!!!! So easily confused with Maxol…. (yes, that was also an argument).

Screenshot 2014-03-30 09.42.52








This is the proposed new shield. Much classier eh…

Screenshot 2014-03-30 09.42.37







There is a good argument to look again at brands. And theres  a good argument that we should have one consistent logotype (we have at present dozens, and thats confusing). What’s concerning to me is that we seem in this exercise to have taken absolutely no cognizance of the heraldic elements – TCD is an essentially medieval conception, and thats part of its strength.  We can for instance recognize the essential religious nature of the original foundation with a bible without having to accept the literal truth therein or to say that TCD is now a religious institution. We have spend the equivalent of 20 PhD fees or the cost of two postdocs  on a casual rebranding. The evidence from internal surveys is that the academic staff (those much vaunted frontline workers) were in the majority (50-80% depending on the question) happy with the visual identity of the college. One wonders why that was ignored?   One also wonders when we have marketing and design professors why they were not consulted.

College is broke. We have spend c 100k on this so far. We will spend how much more on this? . Frankly, a cent would be too much. This does nothing to advance the core mission of the college.