Ask any Trinity student about the content of our current student charter and it’s unlikely that they will be able to tell you what rights and responsibilities it outlines. But while students rightly expect certain entitlements in the College, that relationship can too easily become a muddled, top-down one, where students reside at the bottom of a chain that dictates their four-plus years in Trinity.
This is the important line of thinking behind the pioneering new partnership document between Trinity’s students’ unions – Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) and Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) – signed this week. Putting students into a position where they have a say in College’s decisions and can actively engage with what the College is doing is important – but only if that position is championed and publicised by both sides of the partnership.
With both sides owning the document, and with review and implementation plans introduced, the chances that the policy will sit gathering dust are encouragingly low. But what can often occur in Trinity is that students are not fully aware of how things work, and if a culture of using this policy fails to become widespread among students, it will become easy to ignore.
The areas that are outlined for partnership in the document include those that students frequently bemoan: online learning, timely assessment feedback, IT service provision, informal student spaces, accessibility for students with disabilities. Giving students the chance to have a say is a huge step in fixing what students complain about the most when it comes to Trinity, and hopefully offers staff a clear path to make appropriate adjustments. But if students and staff, in schools, department and services, aren’t made fully aware that this relationship is supposed to improve, there is a danger this new partnership could become little more than lip service.
The current team of college and student officers appear fully committed to the agreement’s aims of ensuring the student voice is represented when it comes to decisions about teaching, learning, assessment and the overall student experience. If future teams aren’t as committed, or students, over the next few months and years, aren’t made aware of the significance of the document or how best to use it, all these efforts will go to naught. Students’ unions around the country will be watching to see how this historic partnership – the first of its kind to be signed in Ireland – pans out. We cannot let it be an opportunity missed.