StudentSurvey.ie is a survey tool for Irish third-level educational institutions. It aims to collect students’ perceptions of their time at institutions. However, it is imbued with a corporate ethos. To note, this is separate altogether from module evaluations, which are very useful for lecturers and also students.
It is a corporate survey that pushes a cookie-cutter logic, and its equivalent the National Student Survey (NSS) is boycotted in the U.K. by the NUS for commercialising institutions, contributing to course cuts and raising tuition fees.
These tools, like league tables, measure the wrong things in an educational environment, turning higher education into a competitive market in which institutions are pitted against each other in meaningless categories. It is a customer satisfaction survey at its core.
Satisfaction is not the right indicator, and students are not customers. Such surveys encourage institutions to stream money into marketing or other quick fixes to drive up student satisfaction on paper, while not making overarching or substantial changes for real improvement in the student learning experience.
In contrast to the narrow view of education that this survey promotes, a holistic and structural approach should be taken which encompasses. Quality of teaching comes from well-paid staff not on precarious contracts, adequate classroom investment and balanced student to staff ratios.
The survey also lacks context. It reduces very different courses at very different institutions to a simple set of metrics, and implies that one can use these metrics to compare and rank courses and institutions. The questions are too simple and one-dimensional to properly measure the issues at hand.
What counts is whether students have been intellectually challenged in a supportive environment, which is difficult to measure. It can measure if students are happy or not with crude metrics, but the link to teaching quality is dubious at best, and the solutions arising from it are corporate.
Such surveys aim to reduce the issues facing third-level education to mere managerial issues, in other words, designed to hide the forest from the trees, as if the wider socioeconomic context of underfunding did not exist.
This survey can be used to justify future tuition fee increases, and it also treats students like consumers instead of community members. Such scores can also be used by the senior management to justify cutting courses, shutting departments and sacking staff.
Our fight is against the corporatized “productive” education, constant evaluation of efficiency above equity coupled with solidarity to the the workers’ struggle and the democratic deficit of the capitalist system.
Together with Trinity GSU, TCDSU and others, we fought for the rights of student and staff. With our combined efforts, we managed to, for example, secure a better re-opening while advocating for hybrid learning, reveal investments in the war-industry, stop the structure on College Park and significantly reduce the amount of in-person exams. Onwards to next year!
University league rankings are infused with a corporate ethos that push the neoliberalization of our institutions and seek to pit them against each other in cookie-cutter, numerical categories that reflect nothing about real conditions on-the-ground.
They consider research output as the most important factor.
We might as well be article-producing robots for all it cares.
The QS ranking system can find its place alongside other forms of fake tools.
QQI, the so-called Quality and Qualifications Ireland, cares about quality of education insofar as the bottom line, how financially viable the way institutions run their courses is. They would not recognize that staff working conditions are student learning conditions and would never recommend making them better to improve our education.
StudentSurvey.ie is a corporate survey that pushes the same cookie-cutter logic as QS, and its equivalent the National Student Survey (NSS) is boycotted in the U.K. for corporatizing universities and raising tuition fees.
National Student Engagement Programme (NsTEP), a joint initiative of the QQI, Higher Education Authority (HEA) and the Union of Students Ireland (USI) and other so-called partnerships are fake. While they are taking away student representation on governing bodies of 60% of universities with the HEA Bill 2022, they pretend to “strengthen student engagement in decision-making across Irish higher education”. It is disgraceful.
Such initatives are empty promises on paper, like the Student Partnership Agreement (SPA) at Trinity, which seeks to reduce student representation into mere professionalized inputs into the bureaucratic machine rather than strengthen in so it can challenge the sociopolitical order of the world. It is great PR for those in charge but useless for students and staff.
Unfortunately, the USI and other stakeholders swear by these tools. This is unfortunate. We must have the political vision to imagine otherwise, a world in which it is truly the community voices that matter and not the fake initatives of the corporate world.
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 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.
An FOI request put forward by László Molnárfi, Chairperson of Students4Change and Gisèle Scanlon, President of the Graduate Students’ Union, on behalf of the #NoInPersonExams national campaign to Minister Harris’ Office has now been granted. The reason for the FOI request was to ascertain a timeline in which Minister Harris engaged with the 5,000 student and staff signatures of the open letter so that he can make a balanced and fair decision relating to in-person examinations. The #NoInPersonExams open letter is spearheaded by two Trinity students, undergraduate László Molnárfi and postgraduate Giséle Scanlon, and has amassed over 5,000 signatures, which were delivered to Minister Harris in good faith on the 1st of December 2021.
Today we have received the results of this FOI. The correspondance which we received contains 6 records were granted to us after we asked for “Documents, communications regarding the decision of Minister Harris to not intervene in Universities holding in-person exams for Semester 1 of 2021-2022. Any communication between Minister Harris and Donnelly for this issue including the meeting minutes of the meetings that Minister Harris had with management, staff and student representatives. E.g. the one on December 1st 2021 with the student unions” and “Documents, communications regarding Minister Harris’ and the Department of Further Education “s consideration of the #NoInPersonExams open letter, which was delivered to the Minister’s Office on 52 Stephens Green on the 1st of December 2021”.
As early as November 19th 2021 at a meeting of the Covid-19 TES Steering Group the issue of Semester 1 examinations across Universities and Technological Universities was discussed. Minister Harris said in his opening remarks that “Decisions in relation to examinations should be taken in accordance with the framework in place i.e. on the basis of risk assessment and consultation”, according to meeting minutes.
At the same meeting, the Union of Students Ireland (USI) President Claire Austick raised the issue of having alternative options for students not able to attend in-person examinations, according to meeting minutes of the Covid-19 TES Steering Group.
Dr Joseph Ryan from THEA, the Technological Higher Education Association, brought concerns relating to increasing levels of anxiety surrounding examinations.
The IUA’s representative at the meeting stated the importance of alternative examination arrangements and also access to PCR tests. The IUA is short for the Irish Universities Association and they represent DCU, Maynooth Uni, NUI Galway, TCD, TU Dublin, UCC, UCD and the University of Limerick. The IUA is composed of the Presidents of each of these Colleges.
Just a month later, at the next meeting of the Steering Committee on the 10th of December 2021, in the middle of exams, Minister Harris in his opening remarks is seen to call the student voices, like NUIGSU, who called out instititutions not creating safe exam conditions to be lies. He called upon stakeholders to “debunk misinformation regarding the application of public health advice”. He also said that an agreement was reached that a “one size fits all approach is not appropriate” – this agreement must be referring to the government’s own decision, as meeting minute do not indicate any sort of direct discussion on the topic.
Dr Breda Smyth, is the director of public health for the Health Service Executive in the west, and also is one of the leaders of the Unicov project.
Claure Austick, USI President, after the opening remarks of Minister Harris, reiterated the importance of alternative options for assesment students in light of rising Covid-19 cases.
The IUA suddenly at this meeting agreed with Minister Harris, contradicting students’ and staff’s account on a number of issues, namely the amount of in-person exams, whether these exams are safe and whether there are proper alternative arrangements (e.g. deferral mechanisms) in place. They also claim that whenever an exam was postponed due to Storm Bara, it was moved to a different date “in agreement with local student unions”, but this was clearly not the case for NUI Galway’s Saturday exams.
Stella Griffin from FORSA, an Irish trade union, noted concern for invigilators (since they are older and more at-risk) in exam halls at the meeting.
Following the 10th of December meeting, a document which describes how to answer questions from TDs in the Dail relating to in-person exams was disseminated to government members. It said that the key messaging must be that all stakeholders were consulted. Furthermore, it crafted a reply to possible “opposition attack lines”.
Another meeting was held just between Minister Harris and the USI and different SUs on the 1st of December 2021. The briefing document prepared for Minister Harris for this meeting shows that Minister Harris’ Office essentially let Universities take the blame. This was re-iterated to the representatives at the meeting, who raised the issue of #NoInPersonExams.
As far as whether the Minister’s Office considered the #NoInPersonExams open letter with 5,000 signatures, they did not. They put it in the government system, but there is no indication that Minister Harris or others in the government took the time to engage with the signatories. This shows a huge disrespect for the 5,000 students and staff who raised the mental and physical dangers of in-person examinations and is an affront to the democratic process.
This was the only communication and document relating to the FOI about whether the government considered the #NoInPersonExams open letter. Branding the Graduate Students’ Union of Trinity a “protest group” just shows how out-of-touch Minister Harris’ Office is with student representation on-the-ground.
Find all the original FOI documents here. Note that for the briefing document mentioned just a moment ago, there were supposed to be “redacted” parts, but the government failed to redact it properly – you can simply copy-paste from the PDF, so we made an unredacted version which describes different issues relating to third-level education at the moment.
We would hope that the Minister has learnt lessons from this, namely that the next time we call to deliver a petition with several thousands signatures and hundreds of thousands of social media interactions, that the Minister will have the good grace to engage with not only the content of the petition, but should extend appropriate respect to the many thousand voters who took the time and consideration to be a part of the campaign.
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.