Trinity College Dublin announced last night that they are set to introduce a flat fee of €450 for supplemental exams. The decision to bring in the fee, which will be implemented from the 2019 academic year was made after a meeting of the College Board on February 28th.
The move toward charging students to repeat exams had been mooted for a while by senior figures in college and, given that there is no currently no overt fee for sitting supplemental exams - save for the massive emotional cost of having to sacrifice a chunk of your summer to sit in a library studying - there has naturally been much attention paid to the various proposals made by the college in the run up to its decision.
A recently held student preferendum, where students were asked to give their preference on one of five proposed systems for how to deal with students who fail exams, resulted in 34.5% of students voting for the motion that "TCDSU should not support the introduction of supplemental fees but should advocate for modular billing." Yet, in spite of this being the overriding decision of the thousands of students who voted - and indeed it should be noted that the second most popular option on the ballot was to oppose the introduction of both supplemental fees and modular billing - the college have ignored the student population and opted for their decision of introducing the €450 flat fee.
It is important to note that this decision comes as something of a surprise. Throughout the build-up to the preferendum the College Board had indicated that the model they were in favour of implementing was to charge students €200 per repeat, and up to a cap of €1,000. The flat fee they have opted for seems foolhardy and opportunistic, given that the majority of students who fail exams will only fail one. This model thus disproportionately punishes the majority of the students it concerns.
The news has been met with outrage by the TCDSU, with the Union's president, Kevin Keane, describing the decision to The University Times as a "disgrace".
Trinity College has, in one ill-advised fell-swoop, become the most expensive college in the country in which to fail an exam. The reasons the college has given to necessitate these changes refer to the all too real cuts in funding for third-level institutions, which have been gradually stunting Irish universities and colleges since 2008, driving them to seek new revenue streams from other sources.
Indeed, in the aforementioned University Times article there is a telling quote from Vice-Provost, Chris Morash, that perhaps best sums up the toxic impact these funding cuts have had on the dynamic between colleges and their students. Speaking about Trinity he said, "Keeping in mind that the university as a whole is carrying a very large deficit, which we are working hard to reduce, we simply can't bear the cost of losing the income currently produced by repeat student fees." The cuts in funding that have driven universities to seek alternate revenue streams have forced a fundamental shift in students being viewed as the beneficiaries of university services toward being their unwilling financiers.
Aside from the myriad issues the introduction of a supplemental fee engenders in terms of placing further financial barriers between students from lower socio-economic groups and access to education - or indeed creating a situation within college education that becomes financially untenable - it is a dangerous precedent. Even though the majority of colleges in Ireland already have their own fees structures for repeat exams, this does not mean that it should be the normal run of things, and indeed the very least that can be hoped for from this is that it brings the injustice of the issue back into discourse.
The student experience is being further monetised by institutions, the very existence of whom is ostensibly for the betterment of the very people they're having to financially exploit. While it evidently costs colleges to facilitate the resitting of exams, it is a callous act of opportunism to charge for them. The subtextual justification for it is an implicit statement that "Well, these students failed due to their own failings, therefore they ought to shoulder the financial burden." Yet this is an insidious and fallacious argument.
It would be churlish to say that every student who fails exams is completely faultless in ending up in a situation where they need to repeat; there will of course be students who underestimate the task ahead of them, or overestimate their own abilities - but these are far and away the minority. Most students who fail do so due to faults in teaching; personal pressures - which are by no means helped by the woeful crisis of underfunded student support services within most colleges; poor scheduling of exams - forcing students to memorise far too much material in a disproportionately small amount of time; or indeed due to students having other commitments on their time, such as the ever-increasing financial burdens placed on them by colleges forcing them to take intensive and low-paying part-time jobs - due to their sheer audacity of wanting to pursue higher education.
While it evidently costs colleges to facilitate the resitting of exams, it is a callous act of opportunism to charge for them. The subtextual justification for it is an implicit statement that "Well, these students failed due to their own failings, therefore they ought to shoulder the financial burden." Yet this is an insidious and fallacious argument.
The Students' Union will be holding an emergency meeting to oppose the proposed changes at 7pm tonight. The meeting will take place in Room 4017 in the Arts Block.
H/T: The University Times