If a Trinity student fails an exam, at present you are given a chance to re-sit that exam that summer. This exam does not, in itself, cost you money – apart from the occasional J1-ending cost of hastily booking flights home from Boston or San Francisco. If you fail your supplemental exam, you have failed the year and are required to repeat it and, depending on your course, to pay between €4,000 and €18,000 to do so.
In recent weeks, Trinity students and their representatives have been offered (or, at least, been told about) a “deal”, by which you will henceforth be required to pay a hefty sum – say, €200 – to repeat your failed exam. In exchange, if you also fail your supplemental exam, the following year you will only have to repeat the module or modules that you failed – and not the whole year like at present, and all of the modules you did that year.
This is a terrible deal – indeed, that it is not a deal at all, but rather an old-fashioned attempt to compel you and your classmates to foot an even larger portion of the bill for your higher education, which is being unfairly tied to a completely unrelated and long-overdue piece of curricular reform. It is a proposal that should alarm and dismay and be rejected by you, your fellow students and your student representatives.
Just because a supplemental exam fee and curricular reform might be mentioned in the same sentence does not, in fact, mean that they are linked
Trinity is really struggling for money. Since approximately 2008, the higher education sector has received less and less public funding each year, and relied more and more heavily on private revenue, from sources including philanthropy, the proliferating flocks of tourists you see shuffling around the Arts Block looking for toilets, and you, the students.
Ireland’s third-level fees now constitute the second highest in Europe. The political determinants of this trend are beyond the scope of this article, but they provide the impetus for this “deal” and similar proposals like it.
So: you must pay €200 or so to do your supplemental exam, whereas in return you will no longer have to repeat the whole year if you fail it, and you’ll pay only for the module you’re repeating. Seem reasonable? It’s not.
Just because a supplemental exam fee and curricular reform might be mentioned in the same sentence does not, in fact, mean that they are linked. They are not. Trinity’s management can choose to reform its educational structures in the pursuit of excellence, or it can choose not to.
Trinity’s management can also choose to try to impose and to increase fees on a growing number of elements of the education it offers, as a concerted strategy to raise revenue, or it can choose not to. These are separate decisions. As a Trinity student, you should of course agree with and indeed assist with efforts to improve your education, and modular billing is a good idea. However by no means does it follow that you should also acquiesce with a concerted, cumulative and strategic trend toward requiring you to pay, directly and indirectly, an ever-increasing majority of the costs of your education.
The introduction of a charge on those students who have failed an exam will directly target that cohort of students definitionally most at risk of dropping out of college. Moreover, while it is likely that students on the grant or studying through the Trinity Access Programme will not be required to pay this fee, it will affect some students much more than others. In this context, such a fee becomes not only unfair but inequitable. Other universities do indeed charge their students a variety of fees for failing their exams, but why on earth does that justify our doing so?
A supplemental exam fee will inevitably create a perverse incentive for the College to fail a reliable proportion of its students each year. It is very easy to introduce a new charge – indeed it often happens without students noticing it – but it is fiendishly difficult to remove one.
Other universities do indeed charge their students a variety of fees for failing their exams, but why on earth does that justify our doing so?
This is not a healthy or ethical source of income for the university to become dependent on.
Do not let yourself be a passive recipient of decisions made that affect you, especially if you think they are unjust. If you think this is a bad idea, make a fuss about it. Email TCDSU. Email the Vice-Provost, Chris Morash. Show up in House Six and loudly ask the first person you meet how you can help.
If we zoom out, the overarching problem is that our society and elected government have neglected the third-level sector for inexcusably too long. We should seek to reverse the alarming funding trend of the last decade and to make the case, from first principles, to the public and to the government, for the real value of higher education.