For TEP to Succeed, we will Need a Stronger Student Voice

Trinity | Sameer Shaikh

With the new SU Sabbatical team being elected last month, a significant talking point around candidate races raised the issue of how the Union should respond to the recent failings with the Trinity Education Project. The SU was criticised for its“head-in-the-sand” approach by being vague regarding how it can currently offer any viable recourse as to how College could listen to the concerns of students prior to any further implementation of the project. Instead, it chooses to alleviate the undue burden of stress on students while the project is being forced upon them in the short-term. Hence, it is not surprising that both candidates for Education are advocating their own approach to the problem.

However, that doesn’t mean that those approaches actually address the concerns. It is perhaps interesting, if not disappointing, to note that both candidates for Education seem to advocate solutions in their manifesto that focus on problems that students could face while the project is being implemented.

It is great that Sally Anne McCarthy wants better communication “to make changes where students need it”, flagging “issues as they arise.” Alternatively, Niamh McCay is advocating for Class Rep focus groups “carried out by students after each exam period” and a grace period of no continuous assessment the week before “nor the week of” exams to prevent a repeat of the problems during the winter assessment season. But both considerations still reinforce the idea that students are being subject to something that feels less like dynamic, student-centred reform and more like a haphazard experiment by scientists whereby no prior consideration has been made for their potential distress because the untethered belief that the experiment could not cause any. It reinforces the criticism of the Union’s approach of just offering short-term solutions to problems. Short-term solutions will always be necessary in any set of sweeping reforms that redefine how students will interact with education, but it is an unfair burden for students to have to experience anything as huge as TEP before students can have a say on how it will affect them. That is especially the case when assessment deadlines are so close to exam week where, contrary to the objective of TEP, it forces students to cram for exam preparation while at the same time writing a flurry of essays & lab reports which does not allow one to engage with their area of study that is conducive to development.

When issues of the implementation and its logistics force a response from College authorities to the wider student body, it is not enough for them to just reassure that the issues will never arise again.For example, this was the case during the SU Christmas Council, where the Academic Registry had to apologise for JS Engineering students having to sit three papers over just a twenty-four hour period. Why did this disaster occur in the first place? Was it a minor oversight, or was it a decision that had to be made because there was no other choice? We don’t have conclusive answers to either of these questions, but it’s not wrong to assume that this is indicative of how inflexible the fundamentals of the project are to the mental health of the students themselves. When students have to succumb to the demands of the project because the issues arise only after implementation where College sees it as a burden, rather than a duty, to fix them as soon as possible, then it is imperative to force College to listen. Students do not want any further burdens placed upon them just because Trinity wants to shoot first, ask questions later. The student body are justifiably sceptical of the ability of college administration to implement the project without any issues, not to mention the disengagement with the Student Union and questions of their ability to serve them effectively.

That is why it is imperative for a voice to emerge outside of the Union to ensure that students are not failed by TEP in the future. The circulation of the open letter that was sent out to the Provost in January, condemning the project as a “catastrophe” due to its poor implementation, is a step in this direction. It channelled the anger and frustration that the body felt with the recent failings of the project’s administration as an “inevitable” systemic failure that had no justification, the decline in student society participation, and the lack of outcry from TCDSU prior to the exams. It is an honest attempt to point out that further issues will arise if College continues to ignore the concerns repeatedly raised about the future plans for students, while asking them to consider giving students a more representative say in how TEP can affect them.

It is imperative for a voice to emerge outside of the Union to ensure that students are not failed by TEP in the future

It is probably unlikely, if ever, if this independent student voice could be as galvanising or assertive as #TakeBackTrintiy was in forcing the Provost to renege on its implementation of supplemental fees and bring students to the negotiating table. The impending concerns with TEP are not immediately tangible. However, if such a campaign could be enough for the College to not discard the worries of their students like #TakeBackTrinity, or convince the Union that addressing concerns as they arise is not the main solution to the issue, then it is something that is worth striving for.

Originally published 18.04.19 in Vol. 2 No. 2.