Assessing the prospects for future international students at Trinity

Speaking with students from outside Ireland about their time studying in College, we can identify the areas the administration needs to improve upon

Screen shot 2015-12-07 at 16.21.03COMMENT

With the proposed increase in international students, it is more important than ever to examine how past students from outside Ireland have experienced being a visiting student at Trinity. The students contacted for this article have all on the whole had mostly positive experiences but it is obvious that the college needs to improve in some areas.

The accommodation crisis in Dublin is difficult when you are an Irish student, so coming from another country makes it very difficult to find accommodation that is affordable. One student, doing law remarked that it took three weeks to find affordable accommodation, and he got little help from the college with this, apart from a “bit of help” from the SU.

They suggested that a workshop be provided for Erasmus students to help them with finding accommodation, and a specific room with computers and advice if you had questions. It was pointed out by all students that they felt left alone by the college to find accommodation in a foreign city.

The Wi-Fi was another issue that regularly cropped up in students’ responses. All mentioned how bad it was, but in relation to home universities it didn’t appear to be worse, and in some cases better. The problem was in its reliability, and this is something that the Provost needs to address, both for Erasmus and home students. The fact that the Wi-Fi is so unreliable, even if it is accessible in all of our classrooms, is not acceptable for a modern university.

Access to the internet needs to be reliable and fast as so much of course content, timetables, lecture slides and contact with lecturers outside of class time is conducted through the internet. Even if the Wi-Fi was comparable to home universities, it is something that could enhance both Erasmus and home students and is an important thing to address.

The experience of Erasmus students with the courses they were studying while here differs wildly and needs regulation. One student describes arriving at the history department to sign up for modules and being told that the module options they wished to take, which they had got information on the department website of, was outdated, and that they wished to do probably didn’t exist anymore.

The course meetings for history and social science took place at the same time, they were left very unclear about what modules they could take, and the only information available was at the department meeting, which clashed. The other Erasmus students they met had the same experience, and were left going from department to department, with no assistance from the college, hoping to get the signatures for the modules they wished to take, but not knowing if they could take them.  

The same student signed up for two modules with another Arts Department as the description interested them and had a lecturer that did not follow the course description and regularly turned up 15-20 minutes late. The lecturer in question sent other people to teach the module, invited guests, showed videos and did not manage to cover the course outline. “Since the only way Erasmus student have to choose their modules is their description, it is not easy to know which courses not to take”.

This is a huge shortfall on behalf of the college. If international student numbers are to be increased, the system for choosing what to study needs to be overhauled. Much like the TSM students that seem to fall through the cracks, international students do not receive support when liaising with different departments, and there is a lack of communication between different schools. This was not the majority experience, and seems to be the same issues that TSM students face, with the added barrier of language and being unsure of the system.

Despite this, all students mentioned how much support Trinity gave them via the International Office. It was noted to be quick and effective with resolving problems. The fact there were meetings organised for international students in the Global Room, social events organised by the Dublin University International Student Society and lectures on Irish customs and culture were hugely beneficial, and all the students reported how this made their experience positive and helped them integrate into student life. Most students said that Trinity was more supportive than their home universities, and the student experience was incomparable.

The range of clubs and societies really surpassed all the students home universities, and really aided international students with integrating into college life. The freshers fair was mentioned as an incredible way to make friends and see what college life has to offer. The facilities in the sports centre also surpassed those in several students home universities, and one student says on his experience of College “Trinity is definitely a genuine student experience, whereas my home university is just the “functional” place where you try to get as much knowledge as possible in the quickest way. Contrary to Trinity, I don’t keep a lot a memories from my home universities, I just need its diploma.” The only negative thing mentioned with regards to student life was the fact there could be more social events for internationals.

The facilities in the library were mentioned as being better than home university, although being in the Berkeley and Lecky was likened to being in a soviet bunker. The students seemed impressed with the system of counter reserve, and most noted that although grades did not matter in an erasmus year, they spent a lot of time studying or working on projects in the library.

One student remarked that although they spent so much time in the library, they never figured out how to take out a book. Special library sessions for erasmus students that focus purely on practical skills would benefit here.

The fact that the teaching method in Trinity differs widely to many countries is something that Trinity could provide support on. Two students mentioned how the struggled with the teaching methods used in Trinity, and how unstructured they are compared to France, where the contact hours are greater, and the lectures are much more specific in learning outcomes. It was very difficult to come from that Trinity, where there are large booklists and learning is very self directed.

This wasn’t seen as a negative, it was just very different and students struggled to adapt without help. Being unsure of this system meant that the courses the student undertook felt very superficial, and they felt left behind. Not understanding what to read meant that often they were confused in lectures. A practical session explaining how lectures at Trinity work (particularly with regarding to Arts) and how house reading lists would enhance international students experiences of the academic side of an erasmus exchange.

This would also be beneficial to first year students. It is something the college can easily provide support on, and individual departments could make sure students understood in relation to the requirements of their course

Between 2012/2013 and 2014/2015 Trinity student body coming from outside the EU has increased by 30%. This year ten new student exchange programs were signed in the US, Latin America and Asia, bringing the number of places for Trinity Students to undertake an exchange to a non- EU country to over 100.

Over a quarter of the student body now have the opportunity to undertake an international exchange including Erasmus. The students in Trinity are evidently putting in huge effort to welcome international students, and as their numbers increase the college must do likewise.

  • Joseph Molto

    First of all you seem to have sounded opinion from from an exceptionally small and reliably positive pool – if you wish to find out what you are doing wrong perhaps you should spread the net a little wider. Nevertheless you have uncovered some obvious problems, I can say that compared to Robarts Library at U of T (yes, also a bunker style like Berkeley) and the Senate House at the University of London, TCD’s library is a poorly equipped pygmy with very poor access to material (I highly recommend the full access to the stacks at Robarts). Where I currently am (Leiden) we do not have such access, like at TCD, but at least all the other amenities are far advanced (cleaner, lighter, better internet and other resources, study rooms etc) than anything at TCD, also there is access to many more significant libraries than is available in Dublin, although there is not much you can do about that. Many of the complaints about facilities also applies to the graduate’s reading room at TCD.

    A propos the administration system, I had some similar problems (one reference was misplaced nearly half a dozen times by TCD staff and a new head of my history MPhil programme who repeatedly requested a new one from the very senior staff member at the University of Toronto who had written it – and was not at all pleased about this incompetence, nor was I as a student or the others in my programme informed of that change in the head of our programme until we arrived at class and found a different man than the one we had been e-mailing and who was listed as the head of our programme [this new head of programme, Dr Joseph Clarke did not join us when the rest of the staff took us for an introductory lunch and later caused several silly blunders, such as double booking a room – that was not sorted out for three weeks, and failing to inform one of our course lecturers about the sole assignment he was supposed to set for us until nearly half way through the course])

    While these complaints and other small matters were shared, I experienced my own problem at TCD when this head of programme made a false representation to the college requesting, supposedly on my behalf through a letter I had not seen, that I wished to interrupt my studies ‘off books’, which was ‘granted’ within hours of a the private meeting I had with him and only communicated to me by a short informal e-mail by Dr Clarke. When I protested at this and noted that this was not what we had agreed (in fact I had only acquiesced in Dr Clarke’s suggestion that he ‘write up’ such a request, as my tutor, for what he consistently called the ‘off books option’, which I was unaware of apart from this, and which he claimed involved a ‘two week consideration period’ which was about the time left in the programme, during which I would have to continue my work while I checked my options re my funding, home government requirements etc.) Naturally when it was clear I had been mislead I tried to rectify the situation and obtained a full medical report by an eminent Spanish doctor I had known for many years (I had tutored his family in English) and later requested information on any recourse at the college from the Dean of Graduate Studies – who I was assured, by the Canadian lawyer I was forced to hire to sort this situation out, was legally obliged to provide me such information as the responsible party (I never received it).

    In fact it turned out that, had I wished to make such an interruption on medical grounds, for example, my home government would require that I obtain a medical report at the time declaring me unable to continue and, because what I had was a report to the contrary, I & TCD were deemed to have broken the funding contract Dr Clarke had signed when I accessed my funding earlier in the year. TCD’s only concern seems to have been covering for the gross incompetence of its staff, including a claim by the Junior Dean that I had told him I was ‘happy’ with the off books decision – a discussion I had intentionally not engaged with on the advice of my lawyer although the Junior Dean, Dr Timothy Trimble repeated this accusation by email several times in response to my protests until finally retracting it after I began a formal case with the Irish Ombudsman. The ombudsman determined that she could not rule on the request emanating from the private meeting I had with the head of programme and, as agreed with the Senior Tutor, I was not allowed to make any complaint as the onus was determined to be on me to produce evidence from this meeting ie. I should have recorded it.

    This level of incompetence is astounding and, I am happy to say, completely illegal in Canada and here in the Netherlands where any retroactive decision by third level institutions is prohibited by primary legislation as it might not be recognised abroad (the penalty is that such a college would lose its ability to sponsor foreign students). Thankfully my home government granted me a special exception and has restored my funding after I returned to a higher ranked university (Leiden) on a postgraduate research programme. However the experience was deeply frightening and shows very deep problems at TCD, problems that might go some way to explaining the college’s precipitate fall in reputation (one academic at the University of Toronto who kindly looked into this wrote of TCD’s approach as ‘obviously a scam’ designed to steal funds from foreign students, and another wrote that TCD is ‘far behind the curve’ in administrative practice and another that this behaviour ‘reflects poorly on the college’), general concerns have frequently been expressed in the major Irish papers and, while one incident may be coincidence and a second happenstance, this situation has clearly far surpassed the point of carelessness and requires attention, transparency and an end of dated, unaccountable ‘discretionary’ decision making that has been abandoned elsewhere, at the moment TCD is not a safe and respectable option for international students:
    http://www.thejournal.ie/qs-world-university-rankings…/ http://www.irishtimes.com/…/ucd-closes-gap-on-trinity… http://www.irishtimes.com/…/tcd-and-ucd-drop-lower-in… http://www.universitytimes.ie/…/tcd-and-ucd-slip-in…/ http://www.independent.ie/…/funding-blamed-as-tcd-and… http://www.independent.ie/…/trinity-drops-10-places-in… http://www.thejournal.ie/world-university-rankings…/ http://www.irishtimes.com/…/concern-as-university… http://www.universitytimes.ie/…/trinity-one-of-only…/ Maybe a cause of this collapse in reputation: http://www.irishtimes.com/…/trinity-has-to-first… and that they seem to think they can say one thing to people in the know in order to rail for more money while pulling the wool over they eyes of students/prospective students is perhaps the product of the warped double-think that produced this: http://www.irishtimes.com/…/trainees-should-accept…)

Editors





Niamh Lynch
news@trinitynews.ie
Kelly McGlynn
features@trinitynews.ie
Michael Foley
comment@trinitynews.ie
Katarzyna Siewierska
scitech@trinitynews.ie
Clare McCarthy
sport@trinitynews.ie

Illustration

Aisling Crabbe
Natalia Duda
Sarah Morel
Mike Dolan
John Tierney
Naoise Dolan
Sarah Larragy
Mubbashir Ali Sultan
Nadia Bertaud
Daniel Tatlow

Photography

Kevin O'Rourke
Ines Niarchos
Huda Awan