Clinical placements must be expanded, provost candidates say at Health Sciences forum

Improvements to Academic Registry and a review of student to staff ratios were among questions posed to candidates this afternoon

Clinical placements for health science students should be expanded, the candidates for Trinity’s next provost have said.

Professors Linda Doyle, Linda Hogan and Jane Ohlmeyer agreed at a forum of Health Sciences staff today that access to clinical placements should be enhanced, as well as improving integration with off-campus clinical locations.

The three academics fielded questions from Health Sciences staff this afternoon as part of the two-month long campaign process ahead of the April election.

When asked about the extending access for students to placements, Hogan emphasised the importance of partnerships in being able to supply internships and placements to students.

Hogan said that the “first thing” she would do in regard to placements is to develop partnerships and “ensure our partners understand why we need access” and “the kinds of access we need” within placements. 

She added that the College needs to be “innovative” in terms of new forms of internships and placements,  that will not be “as much of a burden on our clinical partners”.

Ohlmeyer echoed these points, adding that the cancellation of placements for student nurses and midwives caused “chaos” and it will have “long term consequences”. 

Ohlmeyer said that under normal circumstances for placements, College would need to grow partnerships in a way in which “external partners are comfortable with”. 

She said that if Trinity is looking to engage more on a world stage, the issue of placements is “extremely important” as placement can act as a barrier for recruiting students from abroad. She added that technology is an “enabler” and “let’s be creative as we develop global”. 

Answering the same question, Doyle said that College needs to “push back at the government when the pressure comes on” to ensure that placements are available as needed. 

Doyle said that Dublin Midlands Hospital group could be utilised more and that “the relationships between our partners are not as strong as they could be”, saying that there’s “no shortcut to timetabling in time to spend time with our partners in their location”. 

She added that technology can be used to allow things to happen creatively and that there is potential with technology to allow for remote participation and to “integrate partnerships that way”.

Asked about how they would tailor Academic Registry to address the distinct needs of Health Sciences students, the three candidates were clear in saying that administration needs to be improved.

Ohlmeyer said that the Academic Registry “doesn’t do what it needs to do” and that the current system is “so utterly inflexible”. 

“We need to get some of the basic stuff right,” Ohlmeyer added. “They need to be talking to school managers and colleagues on the ground to see what is required.” 

Ohlmeyer continued to emphasize that Academic Registry needs flexibility so that it can “support what students need” and that Trinity is currently “trying to do our best job with one hand tied behind our backs”.

Doyle seconded this, stating that there is “a lot wrong that needs to be solved” and this problem that “affects people’s everyday lives”. 

She stated that the system needs to be “hugely improved” and that training for staff working within Academic Registry in both IT and outside IT is important to that. 

Answering the same question, Hogan said that she “absolutely” agreed with “we must tailor AR to support the work done in this faculty”. She emphasized the importance of modular building and micro-creditendentals and “we absolutely have to get this right”. 

Hogan continued that not only did this system affect people’s everyday lives, it was also affecting College’s reputation among students and colleagues. She stated that they needed a “up to the minute system”, and the best way to achieve this would be through placing better systems, engagement with schools, and training and capacity building for Academic Registry staff. 

On a point that has created one of the clearest divides between the candidates, the three professors were asked about how they would achieve lower student to staff ratios within the Health Sciences, where some student numbers are externally mandated.

Ohlmeyer and Hogan have set out two different goals for student staff ratios across College, with the former aiming for 12:1 or 14:1 and the latter fixing on 16:1.

Hogan, who believes the lower ratio could be achieved through philanthropy and investment in the health sciences at a university level and from the government, said that a 16:1 ratio would come at a cost of €29 million, on top of €40 million that College expects to lose in income due to Covid-19 over the next two years. “It’s a tall order but still achievable,” Hogan said.

“Linda and I are slightly in disagreement here,” Ohlmeyer acknowledged, saying that if College is “serious about being ambitious and getting back up into the top 50 [in global rankings], that means a lower staff to student ratio”. Similarly, she identified philanthropy and government funding as the avenue to achieve that.

Doyle said that she is “less hopeful that we can go down to those numbers” because of the situation that College is currently in. Doyle said that government investment is “absolutely so important” and that she would make it a “central concern” as provost. Philanthropy could also help, she said, particularly by tapping into changes in the philanthropy landscape, especially around the “social justice and climate justice that Trinity is known for”.

After being posed a question about whether joint faculty and schools should have more autonomy over decision-making, Doyle opened by remarking, “in short, yes”. She emphasised the importance of “re-energising a democracy” by increasing the power and voices of the heads of school. 

She continued by laying out a plan to reframe the current heads of school forum, which she said is currently a retrospective review rather than a “forward-looking entity”. In a newly restructured forum, the heads of school would be granted greater responsibility, allowing for “decision-making, resources, and driving of initiatives”. 

Hogan echoed many of these opinions, claiming that “the rhetoric of autonomy without real capacity to make decisions is, I think, meaningless”. 

One suggestion that Hogan made was that of a multi-annual budget, whereby schools “must be enabled to run their recruitment as aligned with their priorities in terms of their needs and the times of patterns”. 

“Schools must be enabled to run their recruitment aligned with their priorities in terms of their needs,” she continued. Therefore, she, too, argued that the heads of school were vital to allowing for a greater autonomy, emphasising that they “must be part of the creation and implementation of strategy”. 

Each of the candidates expressed the importance of trusting the heads of school to make decisions for their faculties, particularly regarding financing and recruitment.

Ohlmeyer prefaced her answer to the question by stating that “the schools are the engines of the university”, and thus “they need to be involved in decision-making and setting the agendas”.

As a former head of school herself, she emphasised the importance of transparency between all levels of the college in terms of decision-making.

In conclusion, Ohlmeyer echoed a statement previously made by Doyle, asserting that the most important duty of an upcoming provost would be “getting the resources that are needed down to the ground”. 

Lauren Boland

Lauren Boland was the Editor of the 67th volume of Trinity News. She is an English Literature and Sociology graduate and previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.

Audrey Brown

Audrey Brown is a Senior Fresher English Studies student, and the Deputy News Editor of Trinity News.