Jan 30, 2019

Acrimony and Unanswered Questions, at TEP Open Forum

Students expressed frustration at the immediate impact the Trinity Education Project was having on their workload.

Eleanor O'MahonyEditor
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

College officials were met with resentment and uncomfortable questions this evening, as students made plain their unhappiness about the Trinity Education Project at a bad-tempered open forum run by Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU).

Around 30 students attended the forum – a turnout that one student described as “frankly abysmal” – with many expressing frustration at the lack of communication or feedback channels.

And many students left the meeting unsatisfied, with concerns over short-term problems – like lack of revision time and a high assessment workload – left largely unaddressed.


Vice-Provost Chris Morash, Senior Lecturer Kevin Mitchell and the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Science Education, Áine Kelly, attended the forum to get direct feedback from students.

The anger in the room was palpable, with students having just yesterday received results of assessments from the first term of the implementation of a new year structure, complete with College-wide Christmas exams.

Exam timetabling issues were raised repeatedly, after some students faced sitting three exams within 24 hours, and as many as six exams over the five-day exam period. Mitchell said that the College would explore options to alter the timetabling algorithm to avoid the packed exam schedules some students experienced.

While Morash, Mitchell and Kelly were keen to engage with students and explain the reasoning behind different decisions or aspects of the Trinity Education Project, they frequently sought to shift responsibility onto the relevant schools, prompting frustration from those gathered.

Morash said that “schools have high levels of autonomy” and that all College could do is “try to educate staff”. It was helpful, he said, to hear from students the discrepancies in assessment and the specific courses impacted as often it’s something they “don’t have visibility on”. However, he said that the specific feedback from students gave him “ammunition” to try to change things that weren’t working, specifically to address problems with over-assessment.

Students had long campaigned for Christmas exams, but the overwhelming sentiment from those present at the forum this evening was that semesterisation, in its current form, isn’t working. They bemoaned the lack of time to study compared with previous years and how any reduction in exams or spreading out of assessment had had little impact, given the shorter exam and study periods.

Drawing on personal examples, students compared the assessment and exam workload this year and last year, and the timeframe given to complete the work.

Morash was quick to point to College policies that have been drawn up to address the discrepancies that exist between assessment in different modules of the same worth. The “assessment mapping”, he claimed, would hopefully result in “fewer, more meaningful assessments”. He encouraged students to highlight specific courses and modules and problems with them at school and faculty meetings.

He also noted that the number of exams had decreased already – by 16 per cent this year – and that this reduction would continue in the coming years, as assessment is made more diverse. “If there are lecturers think that the way to do this is to add assessment on top of an exam, that’s not the point”, he said.

Morash assured students that all feedback would be considered and relayed to relevant schools but students remained sceptical that much would be done to address their issues in time for the assessment period in April.

Students were frustrated that they would not benefit from long-term solutions and changes to certain modules and assessment. One student brought up the administrative error that led to a long delay to an exam during the Christmas exam period. The student said that Mitchell had told lecturers not to allow for any compensations for those affected. In response, Mitchell said that the incident was “really regrettable” but “not related to TEP”. Between the options of having students resit the exam in the supplemental period and leaving it be, he “judged that it was preferable for students to not do a supplemental exam”.

Towards the end of the evening, students demanded answers to questions about what the College would do over the next few months to improve the situation for students this year. In response to suggestions from the College officials that issues were often confined to certain schools or courses, TCDSU Gender Equality Officer Aoife Grimes said that these issues reflected “the universal student experience”.

Speaking near the end of the discussion, former TCDSU Education Officer Dale Whelehan, who chaired the event, intervened to diffuse tension between students and the College representatives. “Management happens at a school level”, he said, urging students to push for change within their schools.

Correction: January 31st
An earlier version of this article incorrectly named the Senior Lecturer Kevin O’Kelly. In fact, the Senior Lecturer’s name is Kevin Mitchell. Kevin O’Kelly is the Dean of Students.

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