Leftist students for social progress.

Category: Statement (Page 1 of 2)

Amendments to the HEA Bill 2022 by S4C and GSU to be discussed in the Seanad

Today Wednesday 06.07.2022 in the Seanad from 3pm to 7pm the HEA Bill 2022 will be discussed. Students4Change alongisde the GSU has lobbied Senators, and they have accepted to put forward 23 amendments to the HEA Bill 2022 on our behalf, ranging from trade unions, student representation, mental health, academic precarity, hybrid learning, powers of the minister, blue skies research, autonomy, climate change and more.

We thank the senators who are on our side.

TCDSU, TCDGSU and S4C will all be in attendance at the public gallery in the Seanad.

AMENDMENTS TO THE HEA BILL 2022 FROM TRINITY COLLEGE DUBLIN GRADUATE STUDENTS’ UNION AND STUDENTS4CHANGE

Currently, on its own website, the aim of the HEA is outlined as follows “to lead the strategic development of the Irish higher education and research system with the objective of creating a coherent system of diverse institutions with distinct missions, which is responsive to the social, cultural and economic development of Ireland and its people and supports the achievement of national objectives”. In its latest form, the HEA Bill 2022 is a complete antithesis in its opposition to these principles. The aim of the amendments outlined below is to guarantee a retention of democratic diversity and real autonomy within our third-level education sector. 

TRADE UNIONS

In page 20, after line 35, insert under a new “(c)” that,

Not less than 2 of the persons appointed under paragraph (a) shall be a trade union representative, one representing academic and the other professional staff.

Explanation: At least 2 of the 12 members on the HEA Board should be trade union representatives, one representing academic and the other professional staff, to give input into the decision-making of the HEA to employees of HEIs.

In page 67, after line 3, insert under a new subsection “(a)” that,

Not less than 2 of the persons appointed to the 5 internal staff positions shall be a trade union representative, one representing academic and the other professional staff.

In page 80, after line 28, insert under a new subsection “(a)” that,

Not less than 2 of the persons elected to the 5 internal staff positions shall be a trade union representative, one representing academic and the other professional staff.

In page 96, after line 14, insert under a new subsection “(a)” that,

Not less than 2 of the persons elected to the 5 internal staff positions shall be a trade union representative, one representing academic and the other professional staff.

Explanation: At least 2 trade union representatives shall be one of the 5 internal staff representatives on governing bodies, one representing academic and the other professional staff, for democracy within HEIs. 

STUDENT REPRESENTATION

In page 66, line 35, replace “(e)” with,

four student members appointed by the governing authority.

In page 80, line 25, replace “(e)” with, 

four student members appointed by the governing authority.

In page 96, line 11, replace “(e)” with, 

four student members appointed by the governing authority.

Explanation: Student representatives should be kept at 4 instead of reduced to 3, in the time of the financial aftershock of a pandemic and a mental health crisis.

In page 66, line 35, replace in “(e)” “appointed by the governing authority.” with “elected by the students through the students’ union.”.

In page 80, line 25, replace in “(e)” “appointed by the governing authority.” with “elected by the students through the students’ union.”.

In page 96, line 11, replace in “(e)” “appointed by the governing authority.” with “elected by the students through the students’ union.”.

Explanation: Student representatives should be elected instead of appointed by the governing authority so as to make sure that they have a democratic mandate, while also guaranteeing that they come from the students’ union.  

In page 13, lines 33-34, should be replaced with,

“students’ union” means an independent and self-governing body, elected by the students, that is established for the purpose of promoting the general interests of students of a designated higher education institution, and of representing students, both individually and collectively, in respect of their well-being and academic, disciplinary and other matters arising within, and outside of that institution.

Explanation: Without this definition, there is the danger the Minister or an HEI can recognize any unelected, undemocratic groups which lack the mandate to represent students if it suits them. It also strengthens students’ union autonomy. 

EQUALITY IN EDUCATION

In page 58, after line 27, insert a new point “(d)” that, 

the policy of the institution relating to the implementation of Universal Design of Learning.

Explanation: The equality statement of HEIs should include progress on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which, for example, covers hybrid learning, accessibility and other considerations. 

In page 58, after line 27, insert a new point “(d)” that, 

the policy of the institution relating to the implementation of adequate mental health supports for students and staff.

Explanation: The equality statement of HEIs should include progress on implementing adequate mental health supports for students and staff. 

In page 58, after line 27, insert a new point “(d)” that, 

the policy of the institution relating to the eradication of academic precarity.

Explanation: The equality statement of HEIs should include progress on eradicating academic precarity.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM 

In page 12, after line 14, insert two new definitions as follows, 

“academic member” means a member of An tÚdarás who, at the time of his appointment as such member, held an academic post;

“academic post” means a post in an institution of higher education (other than a post as chief officer) all or part of the duties of the holder of which is to teach any students of the institution or to carry out research;

In page 20, after line 35, insert a new point “c)” that, 

Not less than four of the persons appointed under paragraph (a) shall be academic members.

Explanation: As per the HEA Bill 1971, at least 36% (7 of 19) of members on the HEA Board should be academic members, so at least 4 of the 12 on the HEA Board should be academic members. This can act as a safeguard against the continued commercialization of HEIs. 

COMPOSITION OF HEA BOARD AND THE APPEALS BOARD

In page 21, after line 23, insert a new point “(11)” that,

All appointments to the Board of An tÚdarás by the Minister should follow a Public Appointments Service process. 

Explanation: Similar to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and other institutions, the HEA Board membership process should go through the Public Appointments Service. This is a complicated amendment. Senator David Norris spoke about it in the Seanad Eireann on the 28th of June 2022 and we fully support such an alternative system for appointing the members of the HEA Board. 

In page 64, after line 33, insert a new point “(10)” that,

All appointments to the appeals board by the Minister should follow a Public Appointments Service process. 

Explanation: The composition of the appeals board should also follow the Public Appointments Service process. 

LAND USE

Delete p.95 s.107, p.95 s.108, p.108 s.118 and p.17 s.9(s).

Explanation: Guarantee more freedom to universities to acquire or dispose of land at their own discretion. This will only be effective if s.38(2)(h), which allows the CEO of the HEA with the HEA Board’s approval to set any arbitrary funding conditions, is removed as well.

CHECKS AND BALANCES FOR MINISTERIAL POWER OVER HEA 

In page 18, replace line 21, with,

“The Minister may give a direction in writing to An tÚdarás, following consultation with the Board of An tÚdarás, for any purpose relating to this Act and concerning—”.

In page 18, replace line 31, with,

“The Minister may issue guidelines in writing to An tÚdarás for the purposes of this Act, following consultation with the Board of An tÚdarás”.

Explanation: For transparency reasons and to act as a check and balance over the power of the Minister, all directions and guidelines must first be discussed with the HEA Board. 

TRANSPARENCY

In page 20, after line 19, insert a new “(8)” that, 

Meeting minutes, agendas and documents of the Board of An tÚdarás, safe for confidential information, shall be made public.

Explanation: All HEA Board minutes should be published for transparency reasons as a requirement within the legislation, because currently, they have not been published since December 2021.

In page 18, after line 29, insert a new “(5)” that, 

All directions issued under paragraph (1) shall be made public.

In page 19, replace lines 6-7, with a new “(4)” that, 

All  guidelines issued under paragraph (1) shall be made public.

Explanation: All directions and guidelines issued under s.11 and s.12 should be publicly available for transparency reasons. 

PUBLIC EDUCATION AND BLUE SKIES RESEARCH

On page 17, delete lines 16-17.

Explanation: Delete “assess the performance of funded bodies with regard to securing value for money in the expenditure of funding provided to them by An tÚdarás under this Act” s.(9)(1)(m) to prevent a consumerist interpretation of education.

CLIMATE

In page 16, after line 9, insert a new point “(h)” that, 

to advance sustainability in higher education.

Explanation: The government has declared a climate emergency, so Introduce climate policy as an objective of the HEA under s.8.

UNIVERSITY AUTONOMY

Delete page 38, line 20-21.

Explanation: Remove s.38(2)(h) which allows the CEO of the HEA, with the HEA Board’s approval, to set any other funding conditions. It is excessive that the Minister-appointed HEA Board can set any other funding conditions. Therefore, it should be removed.

On page 38, delete lines 15-16. 

On page 125, delete lines 29-39. 

On page 126, delete lines 1-11.

Explanation: Remove s.143 which gives power to the HEA, upon direction from the Minister, to issue “guidelines, codes and policies” to HEIs, so as to protect the autonomy of universities. 

In page 60, line 24, after “may” insert “, with the approval of the Board,”.

On page 62, delete lines 4-6.

Explanation: The principles of good governance demand that the approval of the Board be required before remedial measures (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (h) and (i) of subsection (3) of s.67 may be imposed on a designated institution of higher education. Currently, only (a), (b) or (d) of subsection (3) requires Board approval, which this amendment removes and replaces with a general requirement for Board approval for measures in s.66, s.67 and s.68.  

On page 61, delete lines 1-17.

In page 61, after line 1, add a new point “(6)” that,

The bringing of an appeal by a designated institution of higher education against a determination of the Chief Executive Officer under subsection (3) to impose a remedial or other measure on the institution shall operate as a stay on the effect of his or her decision, pending the determination of that appeal.

Explanation: Amend s.65(6) by providing that an appeal against a determination of the HEA CEO shall operate as a stay on the effect of his or her decision, pending the determination of that appeal.

On page 38, delete lines 15-16. 

On page 126, delete lines 9-11.

In page 126, after line 11, insert a new point “(6)” that,

Where a designated institution of higher education departs from guidelines, codes or policies prepared under subsection (1), the designated institution of higher education will have to explain the reasons for this, but does not have to comply – 

(i) which parts of the guidelines, codes or policies it departs from, 

(ii) the extent of any such departures, 

(iii) the reasons for such departure or non-application of the said guidelines, codes or policies.

Explanation: If s.143 is not removed, it should follow the “comply or explain” principle which allows a university to not follow the HEA-issued “guidelines, codes and policies” provided that they give an explanation, and this also should not be a condition of funding under s.36 provided an explanation is given, so as to give the sector flexibility.

In page 37, after line 31, insert the following new subsection that,

Nothing in this section shall be construed as permitting an interference with the autonomous capacity of each designated institution of higher education to determine –

(a)   which courses and programmes it develops and maintains, or

(b)   the number of students that will be accommodated on any course or programme or within each designated institution of higher education.

Explanation: In order to protect small courses from being cut or merged, and the subsequent layoff of academics as happened in the U.K, in s.37, insert that HEIs should have autonomous capacities to decide which courses and programmes to develop, and to decide on their number of students. 

AMENDMENTS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED BY THE GOVERNMENT

I am here to engage in good faith. It will take the time that it takes, and we will work our way through it. I would not be so rude, as a Member of the Lower House, to try to tell the Upper House how to do its business.

  • Minister Harris guarantees that all amendments will be considered. 

Gisèle Scanlon, President of Trinity College Dublin Graduate Students’ Union. +353 86 412 0444, [email protected]  

László Molnárfi, Chairperson of Students4Change, +32 470 58 31 74, [email protected] 

Statement on Minister Harris agreeing to increase student representation to 3 in the HEA Bill 2022

This morning, Minister Harris confirmed that in the HEA Bill 2022, student representation will be increased from 2 to 3. while not the 2-4 that was ideally proposed, the student voice on governing bodies will be stronger than initially proposed. This is a win.

This is the collective work of the TCDSU, S4C, TCDGSU, the USI and other student groups.

As you can see from our posts, There is more to campaign on, and we hope this opens the way for other similar amendments to be made for staff and trade unions. The fight is far from over and the student movement will not rest until our universities are diversified, democratized, decolonized and demarketized!

Take action!

#StopHEABill22

Who is against student representation? (HEA Bill 2022)

  • At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Further Education, student unions through the USI proposed to amend the HEA Bill 2022 to allow 2 to 3 student representatives instead of 2 on governing bodies.
  • This way, student unions like TCDSU would not lose that many officers on Board in the time of the aftershock of a pandemic, financial troubles and a mental health crisis.
  • Amendment 151 was voted down by 6 to 3. Who is on our side?

Simon Harris – Fine Gael – Wicklow – voted AGAINST.

Alan Farrell – Fine Gael – Dublin Finglas – voted AGAINST.

Paul Kehoe – Fine Gael – Wexford – voted AGAINST.

Jim O’Callaghan – Fianna Fáil – Dublin Bay South – voted AGAINST.

Pádraig O’Sullivan – Fianna Fáil – Cork North-Central – voted AGAINST.

Marc Ó Cathasaigh – Greens – Waterford – voted AGAINST.


Rose Conway-Walsh – Sinn Féin – Mayo – voted FOR.

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire – Sinn Féin – Cork – voted FOR.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin – Labour – Dublin Bay North – voted FOR.

We will not forget their actions come election time.

Sign the petition!

#StopHEABill22

S4C Statement on 2.3% Fee Increase – Boycott the Student Partnership Agreement now!

This is our “student partnership”. After the recent defeat of the same proposal through the work of TCDSU, GSU and S4C, they kept re-running the vote at Board until they knew opposition would die, or those who dissent would be absent, and their agenda would be pushed through. Disgraceful.

A non-EU international student in Dublin can already be expected to pay around 30,000 to 40,000 euros just for the tuition fee and rented accommodation. That is insane. To have the audacity to further increase this is beyond comprehension. No wonder many leave after they get their degrees.

We know students who are being evicted, who are struggling to pay for groceries, and who are at risk of not getting their degrees due to the tuition fee arrears. 

According to an FOI request we filed, the number of students in rent or fee arrears shot up to 250 or so during the pandemic. In the face of this, our College has decided to further push us into precarity. The government’s complicity cannot be understated either, as they transformed our universities into for-profit businesses through decades of underfunding.

As a response, we need to boycott the Student Partnership Agreement, which is nothing but a piece of paper that offers students no protections, but is a great PR booster for College. To this end, we have launched a petition.

We invite the TCDSU to boycott the SPA, not just because of the fees, but because due to the HEA Bill 2022, we will lose the Education Officer and Welfare Officer from the Board in the time of the aftershock of a pandemic. Decisions like this will meet even less opposition. As such, we need decisive action.

We also invite the TCDSU to reconsider their political strategy. They should have organised a pre-emptive protest if they knew the 2.3% fee increase was imminent. However, they didn’t tell the union members, S4C, the GSU (who were ill at the time), or the press. 

We need to revisit our political strategy because what we are doing isn’t working.

Sign the petition!

The fee increase is a 2.3% over a 4-year period, with a fee freeze in 2022-2023 but starting in 2023-2024.

Raise Your Voice: Transform Higher Education In Ireland (HEA Bill 2022)

The plan of the government for third-level education is abysmal. Firstly, there is no commitment to reducing the student fees. Secondly, the funding is less than half of what our universities need. Thirdly, the plan comes with strings attached through the HEA Bill 2022, which is essentially a government takeover to control academia.

Not only does the plan not include a reduction in the student fees, the state is taking over academia. In the over 300-page bill, the “Minister” is mentioned 321 times. He holds sway over universities’ equality policy. The same cabinet that is gifting away the National Maternity Hospital to the church will now hold this power.  He approves the budget of universities. The same neoliberal government that has decimated funding for our universities will now be able to control its finances. He will handpick people on governing bodies of universities. The same academic voices who are now dissenting will be finally muzzled. 

It is a crisis that the government themselves have created, and are now stepping in as saviours to fix it. They will not. They will further push their disastrous neoliberal agenda down our throats. 

Students and staff on the ground will be the most affected. The government promised no student loan system, but they cannot be trusted. They are playing the long game. Now that they will control academia, their policies cannot be stopped. We will be pushed to precarity. 

In line with government policy, there is not a single mention of mental health funding within the plan. Who controls the money will control the policy. Small courses will be cut. Programmes will be merged. Academics will lose their jobs.  

We would like to ask you to support the ongoing petition campaign by Students4Change and the Graduate Students’ Union of Trinity which demands to save the future of higher education in Ireland. Please see our detailed briefing on the issue here. Finally, please see our statement here, an email we sent to Trinity College Dublin here, and our email to TD template here. We are continuing this campaign that we first started in January 2022, see original statement here.

We would like to ask you to support the abolition of student fees, adequate funding for higher-education and protection of our universities’ autonomy. We need to stand up and make our voices heard and warn people of the impending catastrophe that will affect third-level education in Ireland for decades to come if this bill passes.

#StopHEABill22

Sign the petition!

GSU-S4C Call To Action: Oppose the HEA Bill 2022

                19th of January 2022

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Dear undergraduates and postgraduates,

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#StopHEABill22

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The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has published a new bill detailing amendments to the Higher Education Authority Act, 1971 in January 2021[1]. The GSU and Students4Change are extremely concerned with the contents of this bill and what it entails for the future of third-level education in Ireland. The HEA Bill 2022 aims to alter the relationship between the state and third-level educational institutions. It amounts essentially to a government takeover of academia, and will result in a loss of student representation during a time when the country is in a difficult financial situation and in the midst of a mental health crisis.

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One of the more prominent tenets of the bill is more state control over third level education. One of the specific proposals would result in a reduction in the number of TCDSU representatives on Trinity College Board, both in actual numbers and proportional to the size of the board. Currently both Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Union presidents and the SU Education Officer and SU Welfare Officer sit on the Trinity College Dublin Board. The bill would lead to a reduction to 2 student representatives down from 4, with the loss of the Education Officer and Welfare Officer of the SU on the Board. This is a change both the SU and the GSU are set to oppose[2].

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Additionally, the proposals in the bill constitute a significant overreach of the Government in the administration of third-level education. Changes will enable the government to intervene in our institutions and further push their neoliberal agenda, resulting in even-more corporatization. The bill essentially amounts to state ownership of academia.

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If the bill becomes law, colleges will have to adhere to designated “frameworks” in order to secure their funding, and the composition of their decision-making bodies will have more state-appointed members.[3]

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The punishment for Universities not following the instructions of the government is dire. Some of them involve withholding of funding, some of them involve giving instructions to the higher education institution which if they do not follow they will lose funding. It is very hard to see how any real realistic autonomy will be maintained if the bill passes. Already dependent on the state for scant funding, universities will further be tied to the government.

There is an appeals Board but it is not independent, as the minister appoints it. There is as such no sign that an appeals Board would act independently of the minister.

Furthermore, the powers of Universities to appeal certain measures which are taken against them is relatively limited as to what can be appealed. Furthermore, it seems that the fact that an appeal has been taken does not operate as a stay on what it has been instructed to do. A university may have to proceed to do what it is being told to do even when it is appealing the decision which was the basis for it being told to do it.

In addition, the HEA Bill will give extended powers to the Chief Executive Officers of the HEA as opposed to the Board of Colleges. Specifically, they and not the Board may co-decide the conditions that go along with funding and may seek information from the government in relation to compliance with those conditions. They may also order a review from the Board or appoint an external review to make sure those conditions are being followed. 

At the Board meeting of Trinity College Dublin held on the 19th of January 2022 it was discussed what is to be expected from the government’s new HEA bill relating to changes in College governance. The student representation in attendance are extremely concerned of the loss of autonomy and the loss of the student voice proposed in the bill.

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The College’s Statues and Schedule Working Group will have to rewrite the the College Statutes[4], which is an affront to the autonomy of third-level educational institutions, so as to make it match with the bill’s requirements. Most Colleges will have to have a 17-member governing body, as follows.

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Chairperson (external)
8 other external members
2 students
Chief Officer
5 other internal members[5]

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3 of the 8 external members will be appointed by Minister Harris’ Office and the other 5 by the governing body itself.

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Our College, however, will be the only university permitted to retain a majority of internal board members due to the “distinct role played by Fellows within the Trinity community”, according to the Department of Further and Higher Education. To accommodate this, Trinity may have up to 22 members on its governing body while other universities will have a maximum of 17[6]. This is, however, not enough to stop the loss of student representation, both absolute (2 less) and proportional (2/22 is 9% which is less than 4/27 which is 15%).

The College has proposed that in order to mitigate the diluting effects of student representation, the Welfare and Education Officers would be retained as observers. The College has further said it will want to put former student union sabbatical officers as 2 external representatives of the 5 governing-body-appointed representatives.

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All of these proposals are unacceptable. It will dilute the student voice during a pandemic and its aftershock and a financially turbulent time for many of us , not to mention will dilute one of the most important student representatives, the Welfare Officer. The Welfare Officer is on-the-ground dealing with casework and needs to be represented on Board. A student can never have enough representation. Furthermore, hand-picked former student union sabbatical officers are no substitute for student representatives who are actually there and know the issues of the student body, not to mention that hand-picking by College’s senior management will lead to those getting appointed to Board who are not keen on upsetting the apple cart.

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Furthermore, government funding of our College amounts to 39% and students contribute around 42%[7] of the College’s annual budget. Even from a consumerist perspective, it is not justified that more external members will come on the Board when we have student representatives who can ensure “value for money” in financial terms. No matter which way one looks at it, this Bill must be resisted by everyone in our community.

“It is the failure of successive Irish governments to fund adequately the third-level sector (and to eschew its own accountability for this) which has led, quite logically, to the imposition of the Bill. In this regard the passivity of university presidents and their failure to challenge the move robustly is nothing short of breath-taking. The argument that we must “tow the line” as more funding will otherwise be cut is naive, lacking in courage and strategy, and a grave dereliction of duty.”

– Professor Sarah Alyn-Stacey, Trinity College Dublin.

“The proposed legislation on university governance will shrink, not only the size of governing authorities, but will also serve to muzzle the voices of academic and administrative staff. As outlined, membership will be weighted in favour of external (including ministerially appointed) members. Far from guaranteeing more robust governance, the more likely outcome will be a further constraining of critical voices.”

– Professor Eoin Devereux, University of Limerick.

The state is asserting itself and Colleges are agreeing with its par to decide on university matters, such as the composition of the Board.

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Students4Change and the GSU calls on Trinity College Dublin to immediately and publicly voice its opposition to the new HEA Bill. If the College does not call upon the government to prevent the passing of this bill, with its full strength thrown behind its opposition, then the GSU will refuse to sign the upcoming Student Partnership Agreement (SPA). The SPA is essentially a document describing College’s commitment and respect of the student voice through cooperation. We call upon the TCDSU to follow in our footsteps and refuse to sign the Student Partnership Agreement (SPA) until College comes out in complete opposition to the new bill. In addition, we will also be challenging the bill in the Oireachtas by making a submission to the relevant committee, and would welcome your contributions.

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Colleges’ governance disregards students and staff, and has for a long time, not to mention how increasingly corporatized it has become. However, the answer isn’t government intervention, it is massive student-staff pressure from below. We need to resist the encroachment of academia with our full might. There comes a time when strongly-worded letters are not enough; when circumstances call us to action, and when nothing must be off the table – strikes, marches and occupations to make our will known.

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We call upon the College, the Board, students, Visitors, Fellows and Scholars; staff and workers; trade- and student unions; societies; political groups on-campus and outside to oppose the government takeover of academia and the weakening of democracy with the utmost urgency.

Sign the petition!.

Gisèle Scanlon, President, Graduate Students’ Union +353864120444

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László Molnárfi, Chairperson, Students4Change +32 470583174

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  1. https://universitytimes.ie/2022/01/governance-bill-details-new-conditions-attached-to-state-funding/

  2. https://universitytimes.ie/2022/01/tcdsu-gsu-to-lobby-to-retain-four-student-representatives-on-board/

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  3. https://universitytimes.ie/2022/01/tcdsu-gsu-to-lobby-to-retain-four-student-representatives-on-board/

  4. https://www.tcd.ie/registrar/statutes/

  5. https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/0da13-higher-education-authority-bill-your-questions-answered/

  6. https://universitytimes.ie/2022/01/governance-bill-details-new-conditions-attached-to-state-funding/

  7. https://www.tcd.ie/financial-services/external-assets/pdfs/Consol_Financial_Statements_1920.pdf

From a University To A Business – A History of Fees in Ireland

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.

Students4Change and GSU Joint Press Release to Protect Students During Exams

Dear undergraduates, dear postgraduates, dear students, 

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.
  • In an email sent to all undergraduate and postgraduate students, College talks about how important personal responsibility is during Covid-19 and how “it would be a pity to miss assessments and defer to the summer”. In reality, College has allowed 78,000 tourists to visit campus between May and October of 2021, and should reconsider in-person RDS exams. There is a serious danger that students could get Covid-19, and long-Covid before and during exams, and as such students should be able to choose to repeat in April.   
    • 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

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