Students4Change supports USI’s F*ck the Fees Protest.
USI’s protest takes place Molesworth Street in Dublin at 2pm on the 23rd. Other regions have protests too, check out USI’s social media.
Tuition fees for third-level were abolished in the mid-1990s, however, this has resulted in the Government being tempted to slowly cut funding.
While student numbers increased, so did taxpayer’s investments into Universities, but the overall money available per-student has been decreasing. For example, spending per student at third-level decreased from €10,806 in 2007 to €7,089 in 2016, a drop of 34.4%.
This is despite the fact that between 2007 and 2016, public spending on education increased by 5.1%. It is simply not enough, and this has resulted in the corporatization of Universities, where they have to make up for the loss of state funding by operating like for-profit businesses,cutting courses and downsizing services like counselling.
The process of corporatization has also seen the loss of democracy within Universities, with once-lively student and academic committees making decisions being replaced by closed, managerial and elite decision-making bodies.
The so-called “Free Fees Initative” that was put in place in the mid-90s soon came to be a myth. Already in 2009/2010, students had to pay a “Registration Fee” of €1,500 to access education. By 2020-2021, this fee, now called the “Student Contribution” stands at €3,000.
On the picture, the 2010 student protests are shown, at which participants were brutally beaten by the Gardaí.
Austerity post-2008 was when bankers got away with gambling away people’s lives and the universities were essentially privatised. In Ireland, banks got a €64 billion bailout, funded by taxpayer money.
Today, only 5% of students are from a disadvantaged background in Trinity College Dublin as per the HEA report of 2020. Socioeconomic diversity is at an all time low accross all Universities, as students must pay up to 14,000 € per year for tuition and overpriced student accommodation.
At the same time, student nurses midwifes and dental practicioners are being exploited. “Before their final year internship, most student nurses and midwives get either nothing or an allowance of just €50.79 per week,” says INMO, their union.
Students are emigrating under this immense financial pressure. However, if we combine our forces, we can still change our situation.
In the UK, grassroots groups organized in 2020-2021, engaging in rent strikes and eventually winning refunds of up to 30% for the academic year.
In the Netherlands, tuition fees were halved following the 2020-2021 academic year for 2021-2022, due to the loss of student experience during Covid-19.
All this shows that another system is possible. We need to organize ourselves in radical, mass organizations and keep pushing for change at every corner.
As we approach exams, Students4Change (S4C) and the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) would like to share their utmost concern relating to the sudden return to in-person exams in the RDS for some students, and the overall plan for assessment in Semester 1.
Our position has been consistent since September. We have always advocated for a proper return to in-person classes, with strong hybrid learning supports in place for those who, due to Covid-19 or otherwise, are anxious about returning to College campus. In addition, we’ve taken onboard students’ worries about a sudden return to in-person exams in the RDS and advocated for holistic, open-book alternatives to traditional exams, which worked so well last year. Finally, central to our requests was that if the student experience is compromised, refunds should be given.
Chairperson of Students4Change László Molnárfi says, “there is an opportunity to build back better as a community, but College is squandering it with its short-term thinking and preoccupation with revenues. Instead of investing in re-timetabling software, proper ventilation and hybrid learning systems, they are trying to save face by refusing to acknowledge the deep-rooted governance problem that originates from the Provosts’ Office. There is a lack of democracy, transparency and accountability.”
This means that instead of progressing as an academic community, initiative is stifled by bureaucratic means, and decisions which are detrimental to students and staff are pushed through, with little to no consideration of their effects.
Students4Change and the GSU are calling on the IUA (Irish Universities Association) to reconsider the decision for Universities to hold in-person exams in light of current high COVID-19 numbers.“
We would like to express through this press release our concerns about College’s current lack of mitigation measures and contingency plans for in-person RDS and online exams in Semester 1 of 2021-2022. Last year, the counselling services at peak time – build-up to exams – averaged ‘100 on the waitlist and several weeks to see a 1-1 counsellor’. It is with this figure in mind that the exam season should be considered, as if it is done in an unthoughtful way, it will have catastrophic consequences for students’ wellbeing.
In general, our requests have been the following, which Students4Change has communicated to the Provosts’ Office via an email on the 30th of September 2021, and which the GSU has raised at College committees:
We asked for College to consider the possibility of using the same exam format as last year, both for standard assessment in Semester 1 and for Schols, since open-book exams are a holistic way of assessment and should be encouraged all-around.
We asked College to make sure that, in all cases, assessments are the least stressful possible. For example, put a permanent end to the use of the invasive Proctorio monitoring software, which can encourage unconscious bias, does not work for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and has serious data privacy issues.
However, with the upcoming in-person RDS exams and online exams, our requests need to be more specific, in the form of proposals. As such, we would like to ask for mitigation measures, and a contingency plan, which should include the following, and keep in mind the following:
According to the TCDSU’s Mid Semester Review of 2020-2021, 28.9% of surveyed AHSS and HS students said that their primary working environment is not a private bedroom or study space. As such, we would like to ask that real-time online exams be extended to give flexibility to people with home environments that are not suitable for writing exams within a very short timeframe.
As per statistics, 11% of homes in the North of Ireland (Ofcom Connect Nations Report 2019) and 20% of homes in the Republic of Ireland (Eir.ie National Broadband Plan website) do not have access to high quality broadband and so could be severely impacted by real-time online exams which have a strict time limit. This is another argument for extending these exams to be 24hr/48hr/72hr exams, like last year.
Wherever possible, compensate for the language barrier. Currently, there is a serious language barrier issue relating to in-person exams. Imagine, for example, a second-year international student who has never written a handwritten exam and always wrote open-book exams on the computer, with the dictionary and spell checker. If English is not their first language, they will be very disadvantaged. As such, dictionaries provided by the College should be allowed (at least for those who need it as a special accommodation due to language difficulties), but also, in the ideal scenario, exams in the RDS should be written on the computer to ensure a level playing field, with accessibility accommodations.
While our College has entry requirements for language, language tests like CAE and our College’s perception of what is considered adequate is terribly mismatched with what lecturers expect. A C1 (180+) on Cambridge Advanced English (CAE) is much easier to accomplish than to write a good exam in second-year.
Computers for exams could be brought by students, and funded by College and the laptop loan scheme or by utilizing the computer labs.
Keyboard-mediated exams are more flexible, can be corrected better and produce overall better quality for students and correctors.
Extra time (15-20 minutes) could be given to students on request from the tutor, and allowances could be made for graders to not take into consideration grammar and spelling as much.
The ideal solution is, of course, to simply move exams to be open-book assessments, with giving students ample time to submit by having long deadlines, based on last year’ model.
Students from the countryside are disadvantaged, as they will have to travel up from their homes in crowded public transport, and spend hours in cramped exam halls. There is a serious Covid-19 danger, and College should as a whole reconsider in-person RDS exams, or at least, fund buses from cities to take students up to their exams. Just like how the government guidelines are being revised at the moment, College should also take a step back and consider the possibility of building back better with holistic assessment and hybrid learning technology for the long-term.
Allow students to resit modules even if they have passed them, or to retrospectively defer assessments if they feel their performance has been affected.
Try to offer possibilities for students to take their exams in smaller venues wherever possible to reduce the risk of catching Covid-19.
Places to pray for religious students should be established within exam centers.
Students should not have exams during their study period, even during contingency dates, especially since there are already loads of assignments due that week.
The GSU President Giséle Scanlon is deeply concerned that the postgraduate community will have to sit in-person exams in a few weeks time.
“I have engaged with classes and there are many practical issues which surround in-person exams which we are deeply concerned about at the Graduate Students’ Union. As a quality and equality issue, handwritten scripts are much poorer in general and disadvantage certain members of our community (students can’t return to write a sentence without messing up a handwritten exam for example) and therefore we are calling for keyboard mediated exams with the assurance that there will be enough postgraduate research students as invigilators set up to take the anxiety out of exams this year.”
In consultation with research postgraduates who have to teach and mark exam scripts – the GSU President Giséle Scanlon feels that:
“Having typed text to mark is the number one thing that will help the postgraduate community as it will improve quality for both students and teaching staff. A student can have an essay/answer and may wish to return to make improvements after handwriting pages, but handwritten scripts are too rigid and make improvement by addition and correction impossible and messy. Typed text creates a higher quality piece of work overall which is nicer to produce for our postgraduate taught students and less problematic to mark for our postgraduate research students.”
If at all possible we would like to ask for College premises to be made available for students who will be taking off-books exams as cramped living conditions will prevent students from concentrating.
The GSU has learnt from its doctoral cohort that “the one thing which is very stressful for students and teaching staff is last minute changes. An academic was teaching last week and ten minutes into a lecture was told that it also needed to be done on Blackboard because half a class had COVID or was awaiting results and if our T.A.s are preparing lectures/tutorials for in-person teaching there are animations behind the teacher on the screen and it helps to point things out. On Blackboard the animations don’t work, you can’t stand in front of the screen and those students who are learning from home just see a pixelated funny blob moving around. The teacher has to stand in front of the camera, so this is in a very controlled teaching environment so in terms of exams, I anticipate challenges with the rising number of cases. I’m worried that now we are lambs to the slaughter in an in-person exam scenario which will affect grades.”
Also according to the GSU, there’s a second layer of complexity which is going to feature as a big problem if Trinity College goes ahead with in-person exams at the RDS. What do we do with students who are feeling unwell? A student being facilitated online whilst the rest of the class is sitting the exam in person… that’s an obvious inequity. The student who has to travel to the physical exam is disadvantaged having to use public transport and then to sit in a hall full of students which would mean possible exposure to the virus at a time when there are but a few weeks to Christmas and students will be travelling home.
The GSU President explained that “I tried to get an ambulance for a student last week onto the Trinity College campus and I was told there was a six hour wait by the ambulance services. Although there are nurses present in the RDS, what if a student needs an ambulance with the HSE being so stretched at the moment it’s a valid concern? I had to book a taxi to take the student to St. James’s Hospital. What if a student runs into difficulty in the RDS? I have worked at the RDS helping the postgraduate community during their exams, there are many variables and unknowns which we deal with as a Union and it’s a valid concern.”
The GSU president is “calling on the IUA (Irish Universities Association) to discuss a deferral of in-person exams for postgraduates in light of the current national COVID numbers. We are concerned for students who are sick or might have COVID, or will be awaiting test results that through no fault of their own they will have to choose an alternative option other than in person. There’s an equality issue if some students sit exams in different circumstances and we need to negotiate a good option for all of our students. Whether that is to repeat or defer free of charge to February, we’re asking for a solution so that postgraduates don’t feel that they have lost something, like so many students last year.”
These mitigation measures are necessary to ensure the wellbeing of students and staff alike.
László Molnárfi, Chairperson, Students4Change +32 470583174
Gisèle Scanlon, President, Graduate Students’ Union +353864120444
Abhisweta Bhattacharjee, Vice-president, Graduate Students’ Union +918583981336
We believe that College should amend its policy on animals in Trinity-owned accommodation to be more accessible and inclusive to students with psychological disabilities requiring emotional support animals as companions to support their mental health.
College policy currently states that no animal or pet may be housed in residences without permission (see below).
This policy phrasing allows service dogs, but excludes Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). This rule is devastating for students who need emotional support and is unacceptable especially during a youth mental health crisis which looks set to worsen post-Covid-19.
We have recently been made aware of a case in which a postgraduate student is being pressured to leave on-campus emergency accommodation.
This postgraduate receives an email asking whether they have found alternative accommodation and whether they are ready to leave on a weekly basis from College, constituting a form of indirect eviction. The emergency accommodation is being extended on a week by week basis, but with looming eviction this student is put under immense pressure weekly by College to leave.
College is claiming that the student and the student’s emotional support dog are occupying an undergraduate room as a postgraduate (there are 70 postgraduate rooms allocated on campus) and that they have to leave even though there are other spare units in the building. The student has full documentation that stipulates that the service dog is an essential aid for mental health reasons and the dog is registered internationally as a support animal but current policy prevents emotional support animals from residing on campus. The student has lived on campus for over a month despite this College policy. Asking the student to leave now mid-term, makes no sense and is untenable in the current accommodation crisis.
Currently, the student has nowhere else to go, due to the ongoing housing crisis and along with many other students faces the financial stresses of high rents and inflexible landlords who will not accommodate animals. The student just wants to find a place to stay, as the situation is “starting to get in the way of my classes, and I really just want to find a decent and quiet space for me to work in peace, without compromising a positive experience here [at Trinity] altogether”.
Press quotes as follows.
“I believe that it’s really important to open a new conversation around this and youth mental health at Trinity College now. Bringing an animal as a means of support for mental health – these conversations are important to us as students and to the Graduate Students’ Union. Our generation expects our learning institution to be more aware of the new developments internationally – emotional support animals provide comfort to students with depression, students susceptible to anxiety disorders, including panic disorders (which can often be no fault of a sufferer and can be clinical) and other mental health issues. Currently the policy at Trinity College focuses on service dogs. Students with disabilities may require the assistance of a Service Dog as a Reasonable Accommodation in Trinity, including areas where animals would not typically be permitted, such as Trinity-provided residential accommodation). In my research on this as a mental health and accessibility issue for students, I’ll be challenging Trinity College to make special accommodations for this student and the emotional support animal. I will be turning to the government to review this national policy alongside several new measures for anyone with anxiety disorders, mental health and sensory issues who need support post COVID-19.” (Giséle Scanlon – GSU)
“Cases like this exemplify the problem with Trinity’s approach to student accommodation: it is callous, impersonal, and inconsiderate. Unfortunately, it’s also just the tip of the iceberg of exploitation and apathy.” (Roman Cabay – TCDRU)
“Trinity College Dublin, as an institution, cares little about the wellbeing of its community. We are confronted by a bureaucracy which disregards the human and a model which strives to maximize revenue instead of the happiness of people. We believe that mental health shouldn’t merely be regarded as secondary to education, but it should be one of its primary learning outcomes. In this light, and especially during these troubling times when mental health is of paramount importance, College’s accommodation policy to not allow emotional support animals to be with students who need them is appalling. It is absurd how someone in a position of power can even think about essentially threatening to evict a student who has nowhere else to go, and use their emotional support dog as an excuse to do so, and not see that the system is rotten to its core. The only reason this was even brought to light is because the student in question reached out to the Graduate Students’ Union President, after the College showed unwillingness to accommodate their needs. This comes to show that we need to collectively organize to defeat unjust systems and establish grassroots community-support groups to form mutual aid networks. ” (László Molnárfi – Students4Change).
We request that the place of the student in question on-campus is restored in full with their emotional support dog at least until the end of this Semester and the next one if needed, a rent reduction for the weekly impact of this discriminatory experience, and that the student receives full and immediate access to the mental health care that they require. Finally, we demand that 8.9 in the policy be amended to include emotional support animals alongside service animals as we believe that our institution should be a leader in accessibility and mental health reform.
László Molnárfi, Chairperson, Students4Change, +32 470 58 31 74
Tom Comer, Chair, TCD Renter’s Union, +44 7724 618869
Dear SU Welfare Officer, dear SU President,
Following my discussion today with Leah I am writing to ask for an official, written commitment from the TCDSU that they will lobby the College to change 8.9 in College’s accommodation policy so as to make it more inclusive. The proposal concerns expanding the definition of what kind of animals are allowed from a service dog to service animals and emotional support animals.
The need for this is demonstrated by the case of a postgraduate student with an emotional support dog, who is getting evicted by College. See attached document.
I would also like to note that the policy should also cover animal welfare, as flagged by students involved in Students4Change’s United Front. The needs of students’ must be balanced with concerns over animal welfare, as keeping pets in the small, enclosed spaces that Trinity-owned accommodation is could be very detrimental to their health. As such, TCDSU should lobby College to build/modify student accommodation with special accommodations which have animals in mind.
As we approach reading week, Trinity College Dublin’s constant disregard for our needs continues to decimate our community. Our mental health and the impact of an uncertain and compromised educational experience again this year sees many of our community struggle. The time has come for action, the time has come for us to demand a partial refund.
Students 4 Change (S4C) alongside the Trinity college Dublin Graduate Students’ Union (TCDGSU) are organizing a joint Undergraduate-Postgraduate protest on the 16th of October to show our support for anyone who is feeling forgotten and anxious in these times.
We will be marching from TCD’s Front Square starting at 4pm to the Dáil, where we will join other groups in Ireland to protest against our institutions in public. You are invited to join as we challenge our College publicly and demand our contractual rights, make our voices heard for in-person lectures or refunds and call out Trinity’s disregard for our mental health.
We demand that Management:
Issue a partial refund to any student who suffered unnecessarily In 2020/2021/2022.
Allow jobs currently managed by the TCDGSU to remain in place until the end of Semester 1 so as to allow a smooth transition to a post-pandemic year. Mask wearing should have peer-to-peer support and this employment has saved lives.
Use the same exam format as last year, both for standard assessment in Semester 1 and for Schols. Open-book exams are a holistic way of assessment and should be encouraged all-around. Listen to our anxiety and don’t challenge our mental health.
Make sure that in all cases, assessments are the least stressful possible, and adequate training be given to students for Semester 2’s in-person exams. For example, put a permanent end to the use of the invasive Proctorio monitoring software, which is racist, does not work for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and has serious data privacy issues.
Reverse the 2.3% and 4% rent hike in Trinity Accommodation for students and staff respectively. Some of us are struggling to pay this and can’t afford three meals a day.
Take steps by the end of Semester 1 towards ethical investment and ethically-sourced research and provide an official commitment for this, decrying its links with Israel, the war-industry and Declan Ganley.
Give College security the respect they deserve and not have them chasing students who carry alcohol in their bags to have a social drink with friends on campus.
Commit itself to a student to counselor and student to mental health nurse ratio of 1:1000.
Give money from Trinity Ball to mental health services.
Install proper hybrid learning systems within College, at no extra cost to professors and teaching assistants and commit to make sure that face-to-face education remains a vital part of our education, while allowing choice for students for inclusivity reasons.
Compensate undergrads and postgrads for last year. Compensation which can be given immediately in the short-term are as follows, which we demand:
Make the Buttery free for this year
Per-module refund for this year, for every online class
Refund of services and facilities cost that we did not get to use last year
Postgrads for one-year courses / exchange students who left: give permanent access to digital library resources
Give access to students to *all* online education resources on BlackBoard from their respective Schools
LinkedIn Learning packages for Business school students
Membership to students who wish to use the gym who didn’t get to use it ,ast year
Cover the cost of graduation gowns at commencements as an apology
This list is to be understood as a reiteration and an expansion on the earlier one, not as a replacement.
With no significant changes made in the Budget 2022 to publicly fund the third-level sector or accommodation, we are faced with a continuing academic year which will bring continued uncertainty and anxiety. Our mental health is severely impacted; we are living in hostels in groups, unable to afford better accommodation, we are struggling to keep up again this year and we’re aggrieved that we were lured to Dublin, when we could have stayed with our families and learnt online for the first semester at home? If we have no face-to-face learning currently on campus why are we here?
We have been cheated again like last year’s students (2020/21) who had the worst student experience in history and are currently being refused refunds. The GSU has pressed College hard for six months for percentage refunds for the students of 2020/21 working on real data from a Survey conducted by the GSU.
The decision to call this protest has not been taken lightly, but was made due to our institution’s neglect of students’ needs and specifically in light of no real progress being made with regards to the issue of #ReturnOrRefund and lacking mental health support.
Firstly, both undergraduate and postgraduate students have expressed in clear, democratic and justified terms a demand for a refund of the student contribution fee from 2020-2021.
For undergraduates, this is evidenced by TCDSU Council’s motion in April where the union adopted a position in support of refunds for the academic year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. For postgraduate students, the GSU “Postgraduate Student Experience Survey” of last year, in which 1,246 students took part, expressed that 78% support refunds as compensation for the reduced value for money, e.g. lack of access to services (e.g. paying the sports centre contribution fee throughout the whole pandemic and not getting access), during the pandemic. At the April 14th GSU EGM, postgraduate students voted for a motion demanding refunds.
Across the three faculties of AHSS, EMS, and HS, postgraduate students expressed above 90%+ disapproval of the overall student experience across the aspects of learning, social life and financial matters.
Similarly, students all the way from Freshers to PhD candidates are dissatisfied with the chaotic and essentially non-existent re-opening plan of our College for the Semester 1 of the 2021-2022 academic year. Just recently, 200-300 protested on Front Square, while thousands more interacted with the social media posts of the organizers as a general outpouring of discontent swept across campus that the experience of last year looks set to be repeated for Semester 1, again without any compensation.
This is also evidenced by an independent survey, in which 866 students took part in as of September 17th 2021. Out of those 866, 83% said that they were dissatisfied with our College’s reopening and 42% said that this affected them financially, as for example they had to take up expensive accommodation in expectation – and eventual disappointment – of an in-person learning experience. Despite the first independently-organized protest, College still looks to not have their ducks in a row, as evidenced by TCDSU’s open-letter on the necessity of re-timetabling and the lack of a plan from the Provosts’ Office.
Secondly, and closely tied with the the issue of #ReturnOrRefund, is the mental health of students, staff and of our community.
In 2020-2021, the counselling services of our College averaged, at peak times – build up to exams – over 100 on the waitlist and several weeks to see a 1-1 counsellor. For the 11.4% or so of the total student population who relied on this service during the trying times of the pandemic, this could have, and probably has led to long-term negative consequences. Not only were students used as cash cows and had no educational experience, there were no robust support systems in place to make last year manageable for many students stuck at home. Many reported increased feelings of anxiety, but not just students, staff reported work intensification (65%), loneliness (43%) and emotional exhaustion (51%).
Recently, it has come to light that our College’s re-opening plan will leave many students doing their exams in-person, in the RDS, as they continue to have online lectures. The Senior Lecturer also said on the 12th of October 2021 in an email that exams and Schols will be in-person. This proposal is an affront to students. After one-and-a-half years of online learning and digital note taking, many students will suddenly be told to sit in the RDS as if nothing happened. Outrageously, this plan has no regard for the immense stress that our 17,000 or so students faced last year, and with the same disregard to student wellbeing has absolutely no support structures in place. Similarly, postgraduate students who are employed as TAs, and professors in general, have recently reported that they are under ‘unprecedented pressure’ with the continuation of online learning due to the technological complexities associated with lecture delivery – our College could easily invest in automatic lecture recording software in situ, which would ease stress for the whole community, but this would require investment.
Regarding recent developments, Budget 2022 provides a 5 million € investment for mental health, but this is not enough. According to the USI’s pre-budget submission for 2022, they asked for 28 million €, and according to them, “a third of students at 33.94% feel that their mental health has worsened as a result of COVID-19”. This is to ensure that student to counsellor and student to mental health nurse ratio is 1 per 1000 at 17.5 and 11 million € respectively. There are also non-budgetary asks in USI’s document, such as adopting the holistic Lancet Model, which are also very important.
Our College has 8 counsellors at the moment, which is roughly 1 per 2000. Out of the 5 million €300,000 was given to our College, but this is not anywhere near enough to fix the ratio. This is the government’s fault, but College should be speaking up more loudly and not pretending that our counselling services are in good shape. They could equally re-prioritize their budget away from capital projects (i.e. fancy buildings, which, in this time of crisis, are a luxury) to the community’s needs.
Recently, an article in the University Times claimed that our College has cleared the waitlist on their counselling services. According to the Provost’s email to us on September 22nd 2021, the waitlist was clear a couple weeks back too. It has 40+ days during the build up to exams, which is the issue. “We have no one on the waiting list” does not mean a lot if support systems fail when they are actually needed.
In essence, our College has consistently put increased revenues in front of our community’s well-being. It is time to make our voices heard and demand that we be treated as humans, not as cash cows.
We thus invite you to march with us on the 16th of October at 4pm, starting from TCD’s Front Square, as we demand that the College provide us a proper educational experience, refunds for last year and Semester 1, and that they take into consider students’ wellbeing and immediately invest in better mental health supports.
László Molnárfi, Chairperson, Students4Change +32 470583174
Gisèle Scanlon, President, Graduate Students’ Union +353864120444
Abhisweta Bhattacharjee, Vice-president, Graduate Students’ Union +918583981336
And press release GSU:
Update 13/10/2021 The TCDGSU will be protesting with Students4Change and other groups on October 16th to seek justice for the lack of consideration visited on our members in 2020/2021/2022. We are protesting to highlight student mental health and the impact of an uncertain and compromised educational experience again this year which sees many of our community struggle. The Budget 2022 has spread resources too broadly and too widely. The government is out of touch with the student struggle and mental health reforms although welcome are well short of what we need. The allocation of mental health funds to Trinity College as part of budget 2022; how much is NEW investment or is most of the figure funding which is already allocated? Taking all of this into account…. The time has come for action, the time has come for us to protest and demand a partial refund. Please see releases attached to this email:Please see the GSU PG Student Experience Feedback Survey 2020/21 Please see release in conjunction with Student4Change attached. Mandate Motion 5 Partial Fee refund which has earned 623 votes; 23 votes not supporting (4%) and 600 votes supporting (96%), and the motion is deemed to have passed 14th April, 2021.
Motion mandating that the Graduate Students’ Union of Trinity College shall advocate on the behalf of Postgraduate students for the partial returning of fees for the year due to a failure on the part of the College to provide students that which they were promised when they registered.
a. It is the position of the Graduate Students’ Union that Postgraduate students of Trinity College Dublin have been affected more than any contingent of Students within the College community.
b. There had been a promise of a blended approach to teaching throughout the year with at least some face-to-face tuition. In the vast majority of cases, the College has failed to provide what they promised in relation to this and offered full online programs instead of regular ones. As such Postgraduate students who elected to attend Trinity were sold one product and were in fact delivered an entirely different and gravely inferior one.
c. There were many periods throughout the Academic year in which it would have been feasible for College Students to attend small face-to-face classes, yet the College remained teaching online. Even now Primary and Secondary school students are attending classes while College students are being confined to home, many of them paying huge amounts for rented residence abroad, which has had a quantifiable impact on many individuals’ academic performance, academic motivation, personal health, and mental health.
d. The Irish Government itself acknowledges this quantifiable impact. This is why as part of Ireland’s Budget 2022, the Ministry for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science granted on December 2020 a €250 payment to all full-time EU students in publicly-funded higher education institutions, to acknowledge the impact this pandemic has had on third-level students.
e. Also, various College services that were paid by the students’ tuition fees, were not provided during this academic year, such as access to academic materials in libraries (manuscript rooms), access to the sports facilities, dining spaces, etc.
f. As such it is submitted that the College has a contractual obligation and a moral duty to reimburse students and partially return fees garnered from false advertising and failed contractual obligations of delivery of services and the agreed quality of services, or else shall no doubt be seen to be acting in bad faith with little or no regard for their students who paid an exorbitant amount to be effectively attending weekly webinars.
Students 4 Change, is an independent, open-forum, democratic alliance of students from Ireland. We are Marxists and Anarchists, but we operate on the principles of the United Front, which means that a wide variety of left-leaning students and organizations take part in our actions.
The reason we are organizing is because we are a group of students discontent with our Universities, with this government and with this system. We aim to set up an Alliance of students, staff, auxiliary staff and different groups, societies and organizations to challenge the corporatization of our Universities, which has led to a loss of democracy, disregard for the community and a ceaseless strive for profit within our institutions.
Until now, most advocacy groups have framed issues in Universities as apolitical, isolated, single-issue problems specific to the University which are redeemable through managerial means. We, on the other hand, aim to have a big-picture leftist analysis of these trends – the way that capital has encroached on academia – and propose an alternative in a way that ties within the larger worldwide struggle against capitalism. This is the way forward if we want to make change within our institutions, society and the world.
From the lovely Cafe Tri Via in southside Dublin one can see a stretch of buildings, most of them the property of Trinity College Dublin, accumulated over the years for real estate investment. One of these, on the right, is CONNECT’s headquarters, a research center for telecommunications projects with the involvement of third-level institutions across the country. It is funded by the government, headquartered by the College and influenced by over 45 industrial partners. Partners, who hold sway over the institution, like Rivada Networks, whose controversial founder Declan Ganley is involved with the right- to far-right sphere.
This is somewhat of an open secret amongst people familiar with academic research, but is not widely known. It is important to note, however, so as to realize that the corrupting influence of capital goes much further than Trinity’s two and a half million euro investment into the armaments industry, and gets its claws much deeper in the institution. The history of CONNECT is representative of the ruling mode of production and the intensification of capitalism over the past few decades.
CONNECT used to be the CTVR, the Center for Communication and Value Chain Research of Trinity founded in 2004. It was now-Provost Linda Doyle who embarked on an ambitious project to transform it into what she envisioned to be a nation-wide multi-institutional research center. From this, CONNECT was born in 2015 as a public-private partnership, with the government’s Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and corporate players funding its 300+ researchers who come up with ideas, and third-level institutions like Trinity managing their projects and profiting from the system through getting paid for administrative expenses. Trinity has an especially important role in the project, not only in headquartering, but it also hosts its directors, one of them who was now-Provost Linda Doyle until 2018, when another professor from the College took over.
Of course, the involvement of the government who demand spin-off companies with profitability and multinationals means it has an entrepreneurial bent.
This is where Rivada Networks comes into the picture, which is one of the corporate players involved in funding research and real-world applications thereof. Mr. Ganley, its Chairman and CEO, sits on the board of CONNECT. And if by nothing else, his influence can be measured by his net worth of €455 million euros, which he amassed through a network of businesses in Ireland, the United States and Russia, primarily in the telecommunications field. In June 2021, he and then-Provost-elect Linda Doyle did an interview on CONNECT’s YouTube channel, indicating his continued involvement, which becomes problematic when considering his political views, the organizations he runs and where he spends his money.
Mr. Ganley is described as one of Ireland’s most prominent conservatives, and he is on the limit of political respectability at first glance. Always one step shy from explicitly engaging in the extreme right network, he works to support the Christian, right-wing and far-right forces from the background. This is done mostly through funding and donations.
In 2017, he gave the seed money for so-called ‘conservative student newspaper’ The Burkean, which at the time described itself as a publication of Trinity students aimed to fight the ‘degeneracy’ in the western world. This is, of course, a common far-right dog whistle.
To take another example, at the time of the abortion referendum in 2018, he campaigned fiercely on the ‘No’ side, even saying that he will ‘not pay taxes that fund abortion’.
Later, between 2004 and 2008, ‘Rivada Pacific won contracts totaling $37.3 million from the U.S government.’
In this light, Mr. Ganley’s former political party, the so-called Libertas, also makes sense. He set up Libertas to campaign against the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in 2018 in alliance with national-conservative forces, on a platform that presented itself as defending the ‘libertarian democracy’ of the European Union (EU). However, upon closer inspection, this was a red herring. The Irish Times in 2008 reported that Mr. Ganley’s aspirations came as part of his vision, written down in a paper for the Foreign Policy Research Institution (FRPI) in 2003, a neoconservative think-tank that promotes military interventionism and U.S. foreign policy goals, which at their core arise from an ever-growing need to expand the markets that capital can spread to.
In this paper, he denounced European criticism of the Iraqi invasion, and declared that the EU must cease its ‘contradistinction to the United States, [that] this new Europe must be an equal partner and influence in the worldwide extension of justice and liberty,’ – a goal which Libertas shamelessly promoted.
Declan Ganley’s ex-Party, Libertas, also allied itself with the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a pro-Israel organization which claimed in 2013 that BDS is a “thinly-disguised effort to coordinate and complement the violent strategy of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim ‘rejectionists’ who have refused to make peace with Israel for over six decades, and to pursue a high-profilecampaign composed of anti-Israel big lies to help destroy the Jewish State by any and all means”..
As such, if Trinity wants to adhere to its mission statement to promote a campus culture of ‘dedication to societal reform’, it should be more careful of where it gets its funding.
Apologize to students for the unclear and late communication concerning the re-opening plan, which conveyed a lack of care for students’ needs and a preoccupation with increased revenues.
Provide more in-person lectures through using TCD’s unused real estate properties to hold classes provided the Covid-19 regulations allow, or alternatively, refund students for the loss of their in-person tuition and the educational experience that they paid for in 2021-2022, per module. Return or Refund!
All lectures below 150 should be in-person. All tutorials should be in person.
Do the best to ensure that timetables do not have in-person and online classes mixed on the same day.
Work together with the TCD Students’ Union, Graduate Students’ Union, IFUT and lecturers to find a solution for handing over copyright of recorded lectures to lecturers, so as to enact a democratically-approved policy of courses being recorded for inclusivity, mental health reasons and for students with extenuating circumstances who otherwise can’t come back on-campus.
This should be a personal choice, especially with the unavailability of accommodation and many students commuting, and should require no justification. This will also reduce stress for on-campus facilities.
Students living in Trinity-owned accommodation should be allowed to have overnight guests and host guests as per government policy.
Library capacity to operate at close to full capacity and students shouldn’t have to book in, the same for sports clubs and societies. They should also follow their pre-covid opening and closing hours, and time allowed to spend in the library should not be limited.
Free repeats for those who failed last year due to the difficulties associated with Covid-19.
Refund of the student contribution fee from last year for undergraduate and postgraduate students.
Increase mental health spending to fix 40+ days wait times at the counselling services.
As a compensation for the disregard of students during the pandemic, TCD should give us access to ALL recorded lectures and materials from our respective Schools, so as to make up for the loss of our education (due to its decline in quality due to online learning) with access and opportunity for more education.
This list of demands was written collectively by Students 4 Change, TCDRU, TCD F2F and the feedback of students. It also incorporates the demands of TCDSU as listed in their press release on the 14th of September and that of the postgraduate demands as outlined in the GSU press release on the 19th of September.
Thank you to Jody Druce from University Times for taking up the issue of broken promises made by Trinity College Dublin re. in-person lectures, and also to Jack Kennedy from Trinity News. Here are a few more thoughts to expand on our Chair’s quote in the upcoming UT article and a few general observations on how we should approach the core issues facing us students and wider society, illustrated by the example of Trinity’s botched re-opening plan.
Many students are overall disappointed with the low number of in-person lectures, and feel that the University did not communicate clearly and early enough the re-opening plans for the 2021-2022 scholastic year. As of the 12th of September 2021, already 130 signed our petition asking for partial refunds or some sort of compensation for those affected by the continued delivery of learning material solely online for bigger courses. This is exacerbated by the fact that Trinity’s waiting times for counselling services average 40 days, meaning that many stuck at home are left to fend for themselves. These reports of lectures with below 50 people being online-only events come as another blow to students, especially since we were promised the opposite. It is not an administrative error but a conscious policy choice which was changed without much notice, and it is also likely that the seeming ineptitude and the general lack of proper communication originates from Trinity’s efforts to safeguard its profits, as otherwise a sizable number of students would have deferred the year in light of the relative lack of in-person teaching. This issue is representative of a larger problem with how Trinity College Dublin views the provision of education and students – as sources of profit – which in turn is symptomatic of decades of commercialization of third-level institutions against the backdrop of successive governments failing to properly fund our universities. The conception of third-level education being for-profit institutions originates in the ruling mode of production, capitalism, and its intensified state, neoliberal policies.
Note that the profit motive is also the reason for the lack of lecture recording. This opposition comes from trade unions. If lectures are recorded and the copyright goes to Trinity (as it would currently do for certain remediable legal reasons), lecturers fear being let go by the University and their own recordings being used to teach instead, which is cheaper – absolutely dystopian. It is important to take away from this that in-person lectures and recorded lectures (for inclusivity reasons) are not mutually exclusive, but are presented to be contradictory due to the fragmented nature of a society lacking class consciousness, wherein issues are atomized so that their true solution is concealed from the masses. This supposed contradiction makes it difficult to advocate for a solution. The only way to unite the struggle is to realize that the ills associated stem from the profit motive, and the conclusion then can only be to overthrow the profit motive and dissolve the contradiction – as “man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind” (Marx).
This might seem reductionist, but it is a consequence of the momentum of history, not about the individual people in Trinity (or in any other institution) who want to or say they want to provide good education. It is not about the Provost or Management, but about the ruling mode of production which predetermines the victory of capital over individual’s intentions however good they may be in every societal institution. While there are individual variations in the extent of its intensification (spurred on by those in power), the yoke of capital is equally reactionary everywhere and impossible to resist by focusing our efforts *solely* locally. The only way to challenge the system is to challenge capitalism itself, rather than focusing only on fragmented and atomized single-issues and thinking that they are remediable by managerial means, i.e. we need to see the bigger picture. rather than focusing all our energy on this or that individual or policy.
Consequentially, it must also be understood that the way forward is to force the hands of institutions and of the ruling classes – after having exhausted all other means – through direct action (e.g. sit-ins, strikes, occupations, etc.). We need to make some noise and organize, and all organizations need to take part in this united front. For example, for the TCD Students’ Union, this would be an opportunity to provide support for students on the ground organizing, and a chance to prove that the union is not just a passive service provider but an active union which protects its members’ interests. A chance to overthrow the existing cultural and structural DNA of the union… at the moment, we and many other students are disappointed that the union, while negotiating at meetings, is not standing up more strongly for students affected by this issue.
With this in mind, let’s continue the struggle for our Universities and for a better society! We call upon Trinity College Dublin to:
Apologize to students for the unclear and late communication concerning the re-opening plan, which conveyed a lack of care for students’ needs and a preoccupation with profit.
Provide more in-person lectures through using TCD’s unused/underused real estate properties to hold classes provided the Covid-19 regulations allow, or alternatively, refund or otherwise compensate students for the loss of their in-person tuition and the educational experience that they paid for.
Work together with the TCD Students’ Union, trade unions like IFUT and lecturers in addition to lawyers to find a solution for handing over copyright of recorded lectures to lecturers, so as to enact a democratically-approved policy of courses being recorded for inclusivity reasons.
Increase mental health spending to fix 40+ days wait times at the counselling services instead of relying on the TCD Students’ Union as an arm of the College to make up for the lacking budget.
We are an independent, open-forum, democratic alliance of students from Trinity College Dublin and elsewhere focused on the housing crisis in relation to student accommodation, Irish neutrality, SU reform and other matters of student politics. We encompass a broad church of Marxists and Anarchists, but we also work together with left-leaning students, organizations and movements.