Tuition fees should be refunded

Online teaching doesn’t amount to the same learning experience as in class

It was surreal for the college community when Trinity closed its doors in March, leaving a lot of people unsure as to what to do in both a personal and an academic sense. Without strong contingency plans in place for many departments and schools in Trinity, the closure left many students unmotivated, frustrated, and forced into impractical and difficult study environments with little to no resources. As Trinity students are left to learn by themselves online across the globe, we have been forced to think about the pros and cons about learning from home.

Trinity prides itself in its teaching excellence but how does this translate to unconventional and unprepared online learning? While there both are positives and negatives to online learning generally, there appear to be more negatives with this impromptu system of learning that Trinity has attempted to put in place. Science based subjects can’t participate in lab work, while language based and theory based degrees lose the advantage of classroom discussion.

Teaching staff can argue that an online discussion board has the same function as an in-class discussion. There’s a stark contrast, however, between discussing face to face and passively reading comments on Blackboard about a subject you’re attempting to understand with your neighbour’s pneumatic drilling drowning out every possible thought you might have. The point is that as students, we are being forced to learn from and make do with unsatisfactory teaching methods in unconventional working environments and situations.

By no means is the teaching in Trinity inadequate, but the space that a lecturer and student occupy and the opportunity to foster an organic education has been totally debilitated by this online transition. The system of online teaching that Trinity has constructed isn’t sufficient for communicating the expert field of knowledge that lecturers can offer students, nor does it accurately convey the questions and considerations that students often express in a lecture amongst their classmates, potentially inspiring ideas and queries amongst their peers.

“…as students, we are being forced to learn from and make do with unsatisfactory teaching methods”

Lectures taking place online cannot yield as much of an interactive learning experience as they do in a classroom environment. Needless to say, it’s very hard to concentrate when someone’s dog keeps barking in the background of your Zoom meeting, or when you don’t have a quiet space in your own home to call from. Trinity encourages and champions its independent learning, but it’s too easy for students to slip through the cracks if they’re not communicating about how they’re handling and adjusting to these new circumstances and environments, especially in larger courses. This is worsened if a lecturer isn’t responsive to any sort of correspondence: as an aside, touching base with your tutor is a good idea if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Particularly overwhelming is the complete uncertainty of details and structure of exams themselves and the examination period: at the time of writing this article, many students are still left without knowing how or when their exams are going to take place, including my own. I find it quite ridiculous that students are still expected to continue studying considering the circumstances and limitations of which we can study. Even though there have been additional weeks added for the study period, it doesn’t excuse the poor effort made by the College to communicate any sort of detail about exams to departments and then in turn, departments to its students.

Students are sharing in a collective feeling of surrealism at the moment that stems from trying to do any sort of work for college, and the lack of transparency surrounding exams in the current climate isn’t very grounding, reassuring or motivating. Considering the adjustments Trinity has made, is it honestly reasonable that the College should still be charging full fees for the entire academic year? Not only are students being denied the comprehensive education they signed up for, but  their access to resources has been limited. Adequate access to the library, counselling services, sports facilities and pretty much anything else that comes along with the “college experience” have come to a grinding halt.

“…universities have been warned that they “may be in breach of consumer law” if they fail to meet obligations to their students.”

If students only have access to limited facilities and education, what exactly are we paying for? This question has been left on the minds of students over the last couple of weeks, particularly those who experience financial hardship and non-EU students who fork out thousands upon thousands to attend Trinity. It’s not exactly fair that students should pay full fees for an education that wouldn’t exactly be called fit for purpose.

In recent weeks, universities have been warned by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that they “may be in breach of consumer law” if they fail to meet obligations to their students. Thus, it is possible that universities could be reprimanded for not upholding the promise and purpose of any educational institution: namely, providing a decent education to its students. If Trinity was to partially refund students, which I think they should, we should remain vigilant as to how and when we would be refunded, considering that there is no current system in place for such refunds. Taking this into account, I think it’ll be highly unlikely that College will give refunds to students.

Considering that the safety of students is paramount, Trinity should really consider putting contingency plans in the event that something like this international pandemic recurs. Beyond a basic duty to keep its students safe, Trinity should be able to provide an adequate education from “Ireland’s leading university” that students have chosen to go to. Upholding this duty to provide adequate education should be at the core of what educational institutions nationwide are doing currently, if they hope to continue to justify charging students thousands to be taught online.

Dearbháil Kent

Dearbháil Kent is a Deputy Comment Editor of Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister Latin and Philosophy student.