New year, new administrative problems

A round-up of the administrative issues facing students at the start of this term

As the new academic year gets underway, old and new students are spilling onto campus with the hope and determination of a Junior Fresh. One difference is that returning students know what to expect when it comes to dealing with Trinity’s administration. After experiencing all the problems that arose last year, especially with the implementation of the Trinity Education Project (TEP), most students likely began this semester with slight resignation.

Within the past year alone, large-scale fee payment failures and preparations for semesterisation have resulted in confusion and stress for students. The first round of Christmas exams in 2018 illustrated this point, with an hour and a half delay to one exam session affecting over 1,000 students. After the incorrect exam papers were distributed, corrective measures were impeded, resulting in some students not leaving the RDS Simmonscourt Hall until after 10pm that night. A number of those students also had a 9am exam the following morning.

Difficulties continued during summer exams. At the start of the exam period, TCDSU informed students that the Academic Registry organised a free cloakroom available to students in the RDS Simmonscourt. On the morning of the exam, students were notified that wait times for the cloakroom were approximately 45 minutes.

 “Returning students know what to expect when it comes to dealing with Trinity’s administration.  After experiencing all the problems that arose last year, most students likely began this semester with slight resignation.” 

Another instance of administrative breakdown occurred early this year when it was reported that an oversight led to the college undercharging students by a total sum of €1.7 million. During the previous three years, 509 students, both current and recent graduates, were undercharged. This stemmed from the Academic Registry believing they were owed money from Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI). In reality, the students were not eligible for the grant, yet the college charged them lower fees. After Trinity was informed of the correct circumstances, the affected students were found to be accountable for the missing fees, some up to €9,000.

After a year defined by such problems, it was believed that the administration had learned from past mistakes. However, throughout the start of this term students have been dealing with multiple timetable issues, ranging from erratic schedule changes to dealing with being assigned excessive modules carrying unbalanced credits.

The newly launched Trinity Electives have been a point of difficulty for a number of students. Initially, there was a lack of information provided to students regarding the implementation of Trinity Electives. This has led to some having too many credits which were not balanced between the semesters when the timetables were released. Additionally, those trying to undertake module enrollment have been directed to address this problem within their own departments, some to no avail. 

Sarah Nic Aonghusa, a TSM German and Sociology student, has been dealing with her administrative issues since before the semester began. After returning from a year off books in Germany, she failed to be invited to register. Many of her fellow students experienced the same issue, only being invited the Friday before the semester began. “We had actually started getting bits of a timetable before we were registered,” she recalled, “though this was fluctuating, clashing and changing daily.”

As explanation, Nic Aonghusa pointed to the fact that with TSM degrees, the two different schools oftentimes do not liaise with each other, causing unfortunate complications. One friend, she said, “was under pressure from her part-time job to give her availability, but couldn’t when she didn’t have a proper timetable yet.” Another had to move out of a module because it clashed with German. “Both departments were basically like, our hands are tied; there’s nothing we can do.”

Nic Aonghusa was also among those students experiencing everchanging timetables. She explained how, out of nowhere, a conflict arose between a German seminar and a sociology lecture. After deciding that she needed to change her modules around, the issue disappeared from her timetable. These timetables are putting other aspects of students’ lives in limbo. Nic Aonghusa holds an important volunteer position and hoped to dedicate certain hours to it; however, with this new uncertainty, she does not know whether she will be able to do so. Lecturers seem to be experiencing this problem as well. When a sudden 9am lecture appeared on Nic Aonghusa’s timetable the night before it was scheduled, students in her course happened to notice it; however, the lecturer did not and failed to turn up.

“On Blackboard, all of my courses are showing up, but then my timetable isn’t complete yet. I’m wondering if I’m actually registered or if I need to freak out.”

Visiting students also, unfortunately, have to embark on the arduous process of module enrolment. For some, this can be challenging as they must track down the course coordinators so they can get each module to be signed off. To finalise their timetable, they must attend the Academic Registry, where a specialised clinic known as the Module Enrolment Clinic is available. The good news is that these visiting students can bypass the normal AR queues; the downside is that the line for the clinic could be longer. Adding to these issues, the clinic was only open between 9am and 2pm.

Visiting student David Kocen is concerned about his registration status. Despite completing and finalising his modules during Freshers’ Week, there are still modules missing from his schedule. “On Blackboard, all of my courses are showing up and it’s showing I’m registered in all of them, but then my timetable isn’t complete yet,” he explained. “I’m wondering if I’m actually registered or if I need to freak out.” The incomplete timetable has proven an inconvenience, with Kocen reporting that, “I’ve been attending all the lectures by looking up the individual modules… But I’m more concerned if I need to be worrying if I’m actually registered in the courses.” After waiting in the Academic Registry for answers, he was redirected to his Department. His issue is still ongoing.

Orientation timetables on the My TCD portal can also provide a source of new student frustration, as they do not feature exact times for lectures, but rather are placed within one-hour periods. This leaves it up to the student’s interpretation, a difficulty that each year leads to confusion. This year, however, Transition to Trinity Officer Eimear Rouine has tried to simplify this for new students by manually adding all student orientation timetables to the undergraduate orientation website. As the My TCD portal is the first port of call for Junior Fresh after registration, this is a helpful addition. However, some of the My TCD orientation timetables are used by faculty for scheduling and therefore cannot be completely removed, some students accessed those instead of the less confusing alternatives provided on the undergraduate orientation website, leading to uncertainty. 

Orientation timetables on the My TCD portal can also provide a source of new student frustration, as they do not feature exact times for lectures, but rather are placed within one-hour periods. This leaves exact times up to the student’s interpretation, which each year leads to confusion. This year, however, Transition to Trinity Officer Eimear Rouine has tried to simplify this for new students by manually adding all student orientation timetables to the undergraduate orientation website. As the original, more confusing orientation timetables are used by faculty for scheduling and therefore cannot be completely removed, some students accessed those instead of the more comprehensible alternatives provided on the undergraduate orientation website, leading to uncertainty; however, on the whole the new resources prove a helpful addition. Additionally, in response to past complaints that the orientation lectures conveyed too much information in too short a period, this year’s orientation talks were split into two separate lectures. Instead of one long continuous lecture, there was one general talk targeting the benefits of being a student at Trinity and accessible services. The other was a course-specific talk which was followed by Student2Student orientation tours. 

To solve these constant problems, it is necessary for the administration to establish open lines of communication. Utilisation of social media is key and would reduce the levels of stress that students experience, the negative public perception students have of the Academic Registry, and cut down on wait times that, as things stand, can often reach up to two hours at the start of Michaelmas term. General issues experienced by the college population at-large could be addressed through social media. Examples of this are the long delays that occur after submitting Garda Vetting forms or what exactly is required for optimal completion; these are simple issues restricting students who cannot get preliminary approval and access to their timetables. Though at the moment there are countless students who do not understand the process of declaring that they are eligible for the Free Fees Initiative, or how to correctly complete the financial section during the registration process, greater communication of this general information could fix this. It would also save students who are not fortunate enough to be on campus, such as those on placement or out in external locations like St. James, from having to come to the Watts building. These are all extremely straightforward problems that could be easily addressed.

Shauna Bannon Ward

Shauna Bannon Ward

Shauna Barron Ward is a staff writer at Trinity News. She is a Junior Sophister Law student.