The goal of the Trinity Education Project (TEP) is not just to change the structure of the academic year and examinations. Rather, it also seeks to alter the skills that Trinity students gain in university through increasingly varied methods of teaching and assessment. This ought to give students the opportunity to learn outside their core discipline and avail of more mobility and internship opportunities. Trinity’s new Vice Provost, Professor Jürgen Barkhoff, speaking to Trinity News, states that he is “delighted with the uptake of the 26 Trinity electives starting in the new academic year… 1,578 students have chosen an elective, with 83% assigned their first preference”. Furthermore, the final phase of TEP saw the introduction of a new weighting structure for all new first year students. Now, all degrees in Trinity will be weighted as 30% for the Junior Sophister year and 70% for the Senior Sophister year. In the past, the fact that most TSM subjects have been weighted as 50% or the Junior Sophister year and 50% for the Senior Sophister year, has led to a reluctance in doing Erasmus as the year would count for 50% of their degree. Hopefully, this new structure will mean that more students avail of the Erasmus programme.
TEP has faced criticism for making the study period too condensed, and for placing too much pressure on students with an increase in continuous assessment deadlines falling during the revision week and little reduction in examinations. For many TSM courses, it has led to confining five exams or five essays to one week with no other form of assessment during the semester. Geena Godley, a Class Representative for JS TSM German last year, spoke to Trinity News, saying, “many students complained about exams timetabled too close together and too short a period for revision”. This could prompt cramming among students and a decrease in reflection time. Professor Jürgen Barkhoff, speaking to Trinity News, argued that “an aim of TEP has been to increase student reflection.” He illustrated this by noting “the introduction of examinations before Christmas, and the timing of provisional results, students now have more of an opportunity to receive feedback during Hilary Term and to discuss results with their lecturers on how to improve their performance”.
“An open letter to Provost Patrick Prendergast written by a number of students in January argued that “Your Project [TEP], serves only to detract from our college experience and devalue our education by damaging Trinity’s international prestige and influence”.
An open letter to Provost Patrick Prendergast written by a number of students in January argued that “Your Project [TEP], serves only to detract from our college experience and devalue our education by damaging Trinity’s international prestige and influence”. It went on to call TEP “[a] bastardisation of two systems” due to the failure to introduce increased continuous assessment for many. As Niamh McCay, current SU Education Officer, noted in last year’s SU election campaign, there was only an 11% reduction in the number of exams in Trinity and this was coupled with a 66% reduction of revision time. The effect of TEP took up a large portion of the SU elections campaign, with many candidates expressing their outrage about the implementation of the new system.
A criticism from the authors of the open letter was that the then-SU had taken a “head in the sand approach to TEP”. Shane De Rís, SU President at the time, countered this saying that “entire meetings of the SU Academic Senate, countless hours of meetings, and consultation have been dedicated to discussion of TEP”. It is clear that the SU was engaging with TEP, but if some of the students that the SU represents feel as though their union is not engaging with the issue, this ought surely to be cause for concern. Aisling Leen (SU Welfare Officer) and Niamh McCay, expressed their views on TEP to Trinity News. Leen argues that communication is key to tackling this issue. “We learned from what we saw last year when we were students and saw things from that point of view. We are very aware of how things feel when you’re not sure what’s going on.” McCay made the point that “even after being elected, I still had to be a student and sit exams.” Adding: “The officers [last year] were thrown into the middle of TEP at the height of its implementation”. However, she stated that this year the SU is looking at TEP “as positively as it can. We want to look at what happened last year and use this to the best of our ability”.
As class representative for TSM German Junior Sophister last year, Godley conducted a survey on how the students she represented felt about TEP. The results showed “an overwhelming majority [of JS TSM students studying German] felt TEP added immense pressure to their lives, causing stress and even anxiety in some”. Leen recommends anyone who is feeling anxious or stressed about returning to college in September to contact her, the counselling services or S2S Peer Supporters and adds that “the SU is looking at the coming year optimistically” and “some of the issues faced last year were bumps, part of the fact that this was a new project being implemented”. She also acknowledges that much of Trinity’s social life and society systems were based around the old system, which took some adjusting. She regrets that last year saw a “common theme of social life being sacrificed”. Godley argues that TEP went “beyond the academic lives of students, wreaking havoc on not only their grades but their social lives and mental health too.” McCay remarks that “it was really sad to see society involvement dropping”.
“…although TEP made her “workload more evenly spread out throughout final year, […] the poorly timed Trinity Ball date and the ridiculous library hours the week before exams meant that I can’t say that I left the year completely unscathed”.
The opening hours of the library were also a source of anger amongst students last year. The weekend before the summer exams, the hours for the BLU libraries were severely restricted. This prompted criticism from students with responses including the creation of a Facebook event encouraging students to occupy the Book of Kells exhibition space. Leen remarked that due to the Bank Holiday that weekend, student counselling services were unavailable right before the start of exams, which she says “shows a lack of foresight”. McCay argues that College should have library exam opening hours “set in stone. The number of students needing to avail of library will never change, so exam hours should never change”. She is pleased that the SU managed to negotiate the opening of all three floors of Kinsella Hall in the run-up to supplemental exams in August and branded the original opening hour proposals from the library as “unacceptable”. Czara Casey, who just finished her SS year of Psychology, speaking to Trinity News, said that although TEP made her “workload more evenly spread out throughout final year, […] the poorly timed Trinity Ball date and the ridiculous library hours the week before exams meant that I can’t say that I left the year completely unscathed”.
Continuous assessment assignments being due during revision week was also a factor in the outcry over TEP. McCay stated that she is meeting “with the necessary people to talk about a grace week soon and is really positive that it’s going to happen”. The grace week would see a ban on continuous assessment due during revision week. “By Christmas time, I would love it to happen, but I haven’t got the go-ahead yet. I’m confident that by the end of my year it will be in place.” Commenting on this proposal to Trinity News, Professor Barkhoff stated “We are aware that the TCDSU Education Officer, McCay has a proposal for the introduction of a grace week. We will continue to engage with all TCDSU proposals. However, as I have not yet seen the proposal I am not in a position to comment on it”. He adds that McCay “will be meeting with the Senior Lecturer/Dean of Undergraduate Studies to discuss her proposal later this month [August] and I will also consider it in detail then”. However, he states that this “will ultimately have to be reviewed and approved by Council and Board”. Oral exams being held during the single revision week before the summer exams was a point of concern for language students. McCay argues that “there is a solution to this, all staff need to do is agree to push back the results date, which I think students would be fine with if it meant that that the revision week that they had was just for studying”. McCay is disappointed that there will only be one week of study at Christmas but the “SU is also pushing for a reduction in the number of exams at Christmas and there will be two study weeks for the summer exams next year”.
McCay states that she is going to make assessment the theme of this year’s Student Partnership Policy, a partnership that outlines goals that can be achieved by the end of year. She claims that she will focus on assessment as a “round theme, dealing with issues such as adequate library opening hours and having supports in place for students”. Nonetheless, McCay warns that “this year is not going to run completely smoothly, things will happen. All we can do is take what we saw last year and straighten out absolutely everything that we think we can”. For example, the cloak room is going to be in place during exams again for health and safety reasons yet McCay is “going to try my hardest to make sure that it runs much better”.
“Uncertainty, along with apprehension, seems to be a common theme hanging over Trinity as we prepare for the second year of TEP’s implementation.”
Leen and McCay are taking a positive approach to this academic year, although admittedly with a degree of apprehension. This apprehension is echoed amongst the student body. Godley added that she hopes “her degree won’t suffer unfairly as a result of the implementation of TEP”. The grace week would reduce the pressure faced by students, though the date of its implementation remains uncertain. Uncertainty, along with apprehension, seems to be a common theme hanging over Trinity as we prepare for the second year of TEP’s implementation.