We are writing to highlight an urgent issue that has come to the attention of the GSU Executive, Students4Change and the Chair of the GSU Board.
It has come to our attention that the Schols Examinations will proceed on Monday January 10th, 2022 with formal communication being issued as late as late last night Thursday 6th to students this week in relation to these exams. This lack of communication and engagement with the Schols secretary, Schols applicants and indeed student representatives raises deep concerns. We have included here links to all known information contained on the Schols pages of Trinity College Dublin.
In a GSU Executive meeting held yesterday, several issues were discussed around Schols and the following concerns were raised:
1. The timing amidst high numbers of Omicron cases in the community does not take into account the risk of illness leading up to or during the exam dates which will disadvantage students. Therefore, we are asking TCD to space out tables and limit room capacity to a lower number and to please distribute FFP2 masks which offer high-grade protection to all those students sitting Schols and to those invigilating exams.
2.We understand that the exams are to run at 60% capacity (similar to the RDS) and will be invigilated by postgraduate invigilators but this raises the same issues which we campaigned vehemently on regarding the safety and working conditions of invigilation staff, such as requiring postgraduate invigilators to clean up Covid-19 storage bags. We would ask College to provide sufficient bin capacity so that students can dispose of their bags that may be contaminated.
3.The GSU and S4C would like to raise concerns about accessibility. The pandemic has further excluded students with underlying conditions or disabilities (there’s no mention of disabled students nor accommodations highlighted on the website pertaining to Schols). We believe that this could easily dissuade students from applying, especially this (as opposed to last) year.
4.Preparing for Schols is the most restrictive aspect of the Schols experience. Many students who are sustaining a job for example, do not have the time to dedicate to studying for the exams and are disadvantaged. This is especially true this year, when those students working will be exposed to the public and could easily become ill or worse bring illness to the exam space to other Schol hopefuls and to postgraduate invigilators.
5.Discriminating factors we have identified with Schols for undergraduates who will eventually become membersof the postgraduate in community (as the funding given extends to a Schol until they are postgraduate students.
6.There has been previous debate on whether Schols should exist – current funding runs over 1.5 million to maintain accommodation, food, and a small stipend, but we believe that academic merit and tradition are important pillars of our student community and should facilitate gender culture, race and disability (both hidden and mental and physical).
7.Last year’s Schols exams were online, which came with its own set of challenges. Accessibility has become one of the central facets in combating the pandemic. Covid-19 has forced each of us to tailor certain practices, in particular towards the online arena, so as to curb its transmission. This year, College has not put in place an adequate hybrid learning environment for students in Semester 1. Contradictory communications, such as backtracking on promised remote access to learning, were issued in the first months of the academic term and resulted in students stuck at home and abroad not being able to prepare for their exams. In addition, with a large share of learning having taken place online, some students might feel unprepared to take in-person handwritten exams. In a recent survey, 66% of students indicated from our College that they had most of their teaching online in the first Semester. As far back as October, students were petitioning to move the Schols examinations online via an open letter signed by students from across departments. When surveyedtoday, candidate Scholars did not agree on switching to an exclusively-online way of assessment at the last minute, nor did they agree with keeping it solely in-person. From a sample of 52, no majority is for either online or in-person. 19.2% are for in-person and 28.8% are for online, the rest for postponement. Therefore, due to the divided opinions of all those applying for Schols, we are not asking for any shifts structure or time-wise, but we are disappointed at College’s slow reaction to community feedback.
8.As for Proctoring, being monitored and taking a real-time online exam during a pandemic will feed into the extraordinary stress students have been under since this September 2021. The additional stress can result in mental distress or even physical discomfort from headaches to panic attacks. Besides, the stress and discomfort arising from being monitored will affect the students’ performances. Discriminating factors we have considered with Proctorio at the Graduate Students’ Union which we believe would bring undue anxiety and stress:
[a] Infrastructure (affording a computer or internet at home) is stressful.
[b] Living conditions (shared rooms where students can take their exams
without being disturbed and can concentrate. Students might live in
accommodations that are loud because of many reasons from nearby
constructions or motorway to crowded apartments).
[c] Students with caring duties might find it difficult to find someone to take care of their children while they are sitting an exam or making clear that they
are under no circumstance be disturbed which induces anxiety.
The use of online proctoring software such as Proctorio violates student privacy and creates unnecessary barriers to exam-taking. It should not be used in Trinity College Dublin.
9.Whilst we very much appreciate the effort being made by those organising the in-person exams which 898 Schols students are slated to take starting Monday January 10th, 2022 these plans present several issues. Students may not wish to sacrifice personal health and safety by sitting an in-person exam and are then asked to choose between maintaining privacy and maintaining safety during a pandemic. International students who made plans around the holiday and exam period with the exam information given in November are currently abroad or in other countries and may contract the virus whilst returning to sit Schols which leads us to our following ask.
10.To sum up, the issue is one of poor communication and lack of choice… the lack of transparency, coupled with the lack of stakeholder consultation relating to the Schols exams . We held a consultation with several Schols in College as well as potential Schols who will sit the exams next week and the most unsatisfactory issue is if a student becomes too ill to sit Schols between Monday January 10th and Friday January 14th. The students’ only option is to sit the exam in January 2023. This locks a potential scholar out of funding for a whole year of their lives. We are insisting that a second sitting of the exams must take place before Trinity Monday in late June 2022 to accommodate these potential Schols, therefore no-one is left behind.
The GSU and S4C expresses concern in relation to the upcoming Schols examinations and presents a number of recommendations. The health and safety of undergraduate students and postgraduate invigilators must be of the utmost importance and we hope that College will listen to our concerns and asks to ensure the wellbeing of our Community.
Gisèle Scanlon, President, Graduate Students’ Union +353864120444
László Molnárfi, Chairperson, Students4Change +32 470583174