The future of fees for international students is likely to be determined by which of the three candidates in the race to be Trinity’s next provost is successful in the April election.
Professors Linda Doyle, Linda Hogan and Jane Ohlmeyer took different standpoints on whether fees for non-EU students would increase under their provostship at a hustings this evening hosted by Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU).
In the first debate of the campaign focused on students’ issues, the three candidates were questioned by former TCDSU President Domhnall McGlacken-Byrne over Zoom.
On fees for international students, Professor Doyle made a commitment that she would not allow them to increase, while Professor Ohlmeyer said that some increase is “inevitable”. Professor Hogan said that increases should be paused in the short-term but may be necessary in the future.
“No,” Doyle said when asked about whether she would raise international fees. She said the “growth model” used by College needs to be ended and rethought and that fees for non-EU students should not be raised.
Ohlmeyer said that she would not want to see international students treated as ATMs, but that “with the greatest respect to Professor Doyle, some increase is inevitable but it has to be extremely modest and very much in line with whatever imperatives there are out there”.
Hogan said that “while we’re still grappling with the challenge of Covid, there absolutely should be no increase”, but that in the medium term, “if we are really significantly improving the quality of our offering and there are very strong scholarships for international students as well to avail of the Trinity education, then perhaps at a pinch in the context of all these things, then there may be room for 1% or 2% increase year on year in line with inflation”.
More broadly, the candidates were asked how they would attempt to alleviate the financial burdens faced by students. Ohlmeyer said that we “really really need to focus our efforts” and that she wants to ensure that for “anybody who wanted to come to Trinity, finances was not the barrier”. She said that attracting philanthropy would be key, as well as “speaking with one voice” across the higher education sector.
Similarly, Hogan pointed to removing barriers to entry and “being part of a progressive, sustainable society” as key factors. She referenced lobbying on the cost of accommodation, particularly for students coming from outside of Dublin, and expanding access to the SUSI grants scheme.
“It’s hugely important that we focus on the government,” Doyle said, adding that Trinity “needs to get its act in order in a much more systematic way”. She said that College needs to have a “more engaged, more interactive, more constant relationship with government” to improve financial support for students. “It would be a mixture of doing things on the ground here in Trinity and also taking a wider approach.”
Each of the candidates were asked to identify what they believe is the number one issue facing students in Trinity and what they might do to tackle it if elected provost. Hogan referenced the pandemic as being of most importance, as it is “obvious that it is an incredible disruption”. She said she would address student finances and the cost of higher education, student counselling, and “enable a discussion for the future about how we come out of this”.
Doyle agreed, stating that “many of the problems that existed already have been exacerbated” by the pandemic. She referenced an increased demand on the Student Counselling Services compared to last year, saying that to deal with issues of student mental health and wellbeing, she would “immediately appoint a Deputy Director of the Student Counselling Services”.
To the same question, Ohlemeyer took a different approach, saying that the climate crisis is the most pressing issue facing students. “We need to approach it with the same urgency that we are approaching Covid-19 to ensure that all of us in Trinity play our part in saving the planet,” Ohlmeyer said, promising that she would “elevate those student voices” already advocating for the climate.
After detailing the pressures that students are under, the candidates were quizzed on what commitments they would make to make to alleviate those strains. Ohlmeyer referenced supports for tutors, student parents, and students with special needs, stating that “we need to think more holistically about the student experience”.
“The Academic Registry is chronically underresourced,” Ohlmeyer said, adding that it was “embarrassing” when students face difficulties with registering for courses or paying fees through the system. She would aim to implement “systems that are fit for purpose and seamless”.
Doyle concurred that “student services obviously need much more” and expressed particular interest in peer-to-peer services that allow students to help fellow students. She stated that she would commit to mental health and counselling services, as well as services for students with disabilities and support for the five capitated bodies. She referenced a pledge to establish the new Student Centre in order to “provide the space” for all students and “continuously enrich the student experience”.
Hogan stated that her aim would be to “ensure that the education of Trinity students is front and centre throughout the full decade” of her provostship to ensure that “what students have in the classroom is world-beating”. She emphasised that the classroom should be an inclusive space for all prospective students. To achieve this, Hogan would focus on improving Academic Registry and other services, as well as echoing Doyle’s promise that a Student Centre would be built within her term as provost.
When questioned about how they would approach student accommodation and whether they would increase student beds in accommodation, Ohlmeyer said that alongside plans to increase the number of students to Trinity in the coming years, “there’s got to be a proportional increase” in available accommodation spaces. She said that she is “hugely conscious of the importance of having appropriately priced, safe student accommodation”, and that to have maximum control over these criteria, it is important that College “develop this space ourselves”.
To the same question, Hogan stated that the housing crisis is “only going to get worse, if we look at projections in Dublin”, and that to combat this, College must ensure that accommodation services are truly providers of a service for students, “rather than something that is about generating profit or revenue”. She said she would ensure that College reserves “a significant portion” of rooms for students who “can’t access accommodation at market price”.
Doyle expanded on Hogan’s plan to reserve rooms below standard market price, stating that this would address the homelessness crisis. “We are interested in accommodation for the purpose of being affordable,” she said. Doyle particularly highlighted the importance of codevelopment with the State, saying that a “national strategy” of providing more accommodation would benefit the whole of Ireland.
The candidates were next questioned on consent and the measures they would take to ensure that students and staff feel safe on campus. Doyle started by commending the work of the students’ union, who “started on this years ago” when conversations around consent were yet to be so broadly discussed. She explained that she has already done a “little bit of work” as Dean of Research, with setting up the Dignity and Respect group. Doyle added that it was important that Trinity “implement the HEA framework on sexual consent” also.
Ohlmeyer answered similarly, stating that while Trinity has a Dignity and Respect policy, it is about implementing that policy. She added that she has “absolutely zero tolerance of any sort of bullying harassment or misconduct”, and “a lot of bad behaviour has gone on in universities for far too long”. Ohlmeyer concluded by stating that the culture needs to change.
Hogan also moved to “applaud the SU for leading on this”, emphasising the point that there is “no tolerance here” with regard to sexual harrasmment and sexual assault. Hogan referenced an anonymous reporting system used in Australia called “Change the Course”, adding that with a resource like this, the university would be allowed to create a “review panel” on what needs to be discussed around sexual misconduct within the university.
On how Trinity can be better at being a welcoming place for students from all backgrounds, Doyle said that “you have to push on all fronts and change has to be systematic”. She looked at the four scholarships College currently provides to asylum and said they should be increased in value and in number, noting that they “don’t take into account how expensive it is to live in Dublin”. Answering the same question, Hogan said that she would “support diversity by making and creating a culture of inclusion”, adding that programs like TAP need to be developed and built upon. Ohlmeyer answered by drawing on a recent meeting with students in Sheriff Street, where she said the young people see Trinity as “a place for rich white people”. She said: “We need to do much more to ensure meaningful inclusion, not just across the north inner city, but across Ireland”.
The provost election is set to take place on April 10, with an electorate of around 800 staff eligible to vote on the appointment of the next provost. TCDSU has six votes to cast, which are to be determined by a poll of students’ preferences.
The poll, launching this evening, is closing on April 2.
The next provost is to take office on August 1 and hold the position for ten years.
As all three candidates for the provostship are women, College is likely to elect a woman to its highest leadership role for the first time in its history.