One of the key aims of Trinity is the pursuit of academic excellence. One of the most tangible demonstrations of this is the Institution of the Foundation Scholarship, an institution with a long history and high prestige at Trinity. Some of the greatest Trinity alumni like Edmund Burke, Samuel Beckett, and Mary Robinson were elected to this Scholarship. It is a distinguishing feature of student life at Trinity. The Scholarship is awarded solely based on a student’s performance in the Foundation Scholarship examinations, traditionally held in January. The scholarship continues to be the most prestigious undergraduate award in Ireland. The award has undoubtedly helped to foster long-lasting links between many outstanding graduates and the College. Scholars enjoy many benefits including Commons free of charge, rooms free of charge for up to nine months of the year and, where a student is not in receipt of outside scholarships or grants, fee remission for up to five years to the value of the EU fee level. This year, due to the effects of Covid-19, the exams will be conducted online for the first time. With this, there arises questions of practicality with regard to the fair and efficient running of the exams.
Conducting the Schols exam online has greatly reduced the administrative burden of organising and running the exams. Administrative tasks like printing and circulating the exam paper, organising and delivering the completed scripts to markers can be a time-consuming and costly process. In today’s day and age, when we all are aware of sustainability and the need to save paper, the ability to conduct the exams online reduces excessive paper production.
For international students, conducting the exams online is also convenient as they can sit the exam from the comfort of their home, anywhere across the world. The added stress or tension when attempting an exam in a large exam hall amongst thousands of students is eliminated this year. Writing the exam from home will likely be less stressful and will also save time and money without a need for one to present themselves at the exam centre. For most subjects, the pattern of the examinations themselves remains unchanged.
Yet, some disadvantages to this new method of conducting the examination cannot be ignored. As the foundation scholarship is a very prestigious institution at Trinity, management must ensure that the students take the exam honestly, exactly like they would if the exam was in person. The nature of questions might also have to be twisted so that answers are not easily retrievable from the internet. As this is the first time foundation scholarship exams are being held online, several technical issues may arise. An online exam system is also more susceptible to fraud. Thus, the IT department must endeavour to set up the examination in a very secure environment to avoid such issues. On-call/immediate solutions for technical concerns could also be provided. We cannot ignore the fact that there may be some students who may not have the infrastructure or the resources to take the examination online. Thus, they may need to rent devices from the college and that may lead to a shortage in supply for devices. Thus, this situation should also be considered by the college authorities well in advance.
Generally, the foundation scholarship examination used to be conducted in the first or second week of January. But this year, as the college reopened late, the examination has been pushed towards the end of January. Also, usually, college examinations were conducted before the Christmas break, thus leaving the break for the preparation of the Schols. But this year, students may get less time to prepare for the Schols as college exams would be conducted just before it.
This year has been one like no other, and the Scholarship exams are just one of many institutions that will be forced to adapt. The move to online learning has been challenging for many, and conducting exams online adds another dimension to the unfamiliarity of the current student experience. Though there was a trial run of sorts with online exams in Hilary semester last year, those organising the scholarship exams will be well aware of the high stakes involved and the need for things to run as smoothly as possible. For those who’ve been studying ardently in preparation, they can only hope that their hard work will pay off, and that they have every chance to perform to their best despite the unprecedented nature of the exam experience.