Trinity needs more coordination and opportunities across departments

Electives and module choices should not be restricted so tightly to individual courses and departments

For a university that prides itself so much on the spirit of classical thinkers that graced its halls in ages gone by, Trinity’s range of educational opportunities can feel incredibly narrow and restrictive at times. Students come to historic, reputable colleges like Trinity to experience a broadening of their minds and a wealth of knowledge across subjects both familiar and new to them, but the reality for Trinity’s students today is much more mundane.

Much has been said about the “Americanisation” of Irish universities like UCD in their course and term structures, and so there remains some demand for a more traditional, classical system of education in its stead. While Trinity might resist these outside changes, and insists on retaining traditions like our semi-beloved Michaelmas and Hilary term names, it seems as if the clear advantages of the modern international university system are being resisted too.  

Joint degrees and Trinity’s TSM programme may offer students a wider breadth of modules and topics than a regular course would, but the choices available to students in pursuing alternative subjects are still infuriatingly shallow. Students are corralled into a single area of study, maybe two, and any deviation from the plan laid out for them will be made as inconvenient and inconsequential as possible.

Trinity’s fields of study are spread across its three main faculties – Health Sciences, Engineering, Mathematics and Science, and Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Of course, it would make sense to be limited to just one of these faculties and allowed the freedom to explore what its sister subjects have to offer, but even within these divisions, students are greatly restricted.

As a single honours History student, I’ve been essentially doomed from the beginning to the end of my studies to sit through nothing but pure history. Even within the curriculum we’re so rigidly bound to, our choice in what we study is practically non-existent until we enter the Sophister years, forced to spend our first two years on a seemingly carefully-curated but somehow still disjointed meander through history.

Junior Fresh students can take on a single semester language module only by replacing one of their existing, somewhat essential history courses, and in their second year of study, their options aren’t much wider. Senior Fresh students are able to choose between a language module or a broad curriculum module, described on the website as an option “for those interested in broadening their education and/or university experience”, while in practise it’s anything but.

Each school in the university offers one or two modules per term as representatives of their entire four year curriculums. While some opt to use this as an introductory lecture, a taster of what their field offers, many seem to choose their broad curriculum option on a whim, offering an out-of-context slice of an unfamiliar course to students who will only be given one opportunity to get a glimpse of what they stand for.

“Students wishing to broaden their education and experience the rest of what Trinity’s intellectual sphere has to offer are met with a handful of limited, irrelevant, and inconvenient options.”

For my second year, I singled out one of the modules I could afford to live without and decided to branch out from the safety of the school of Histories and Humanities. Given that each course only offers one or two modules for broad curriculum, the options available to me in any of the schools I had interest in were either clashing with my own classes or frustratingly reliant on a full knowledge of their field. I opted instead for a language module, and with only a single 6pm lecture per week, you can imagine how fluent my Mandarin is after the whole experience.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem restricted solely to History students. Almost all students of Trinity are limited not just to their own degree area, but also within their own curriculum. Students wishing to broaden their education and experience the rest of what Trinity’s intellectual sphere has to offer are met with a handful of limited, irrelevant, and inconvenient options.

Whilst it makes sense to keep students on a closely-shepherded path through the introductions of a subject, why then does College offer first years the option to skip any one of these presumably essential introductory courses in favour of a language module or a randomly-chosen course on Greek architecture? If taking a single module outside of the course means sacrificing one of the core tenets of your degree, a fundamental building block like a critical thinking module, does it not seem like something is amiss?

If any individual module is considered expendable enough to be replaced by another unrelated course, why not allow the same substitutions across the board, with more meaningful and varied options available? Better yet, why not give your students the option to broaden their syllabus without missing any modules that will be essential to their future studies, and allow some extra credit modules for courses like my own that typically have only a handful of contact hours per week? Trinity is so rigidly bound to the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) that every class is measured not by how much it can teach you or how it benefits you as an academic, but by how it contributes to your all-important ECTS limit.

“It’s a shame that even after spending four years as a student, most of us will never be given the opportunity to experience even a taste of what goes on in the lecture theatre just next door.”

In my time on Erasmus exchange, I’ve studied with students from totally different courses, different faculties, and different years, who could choose any one of the dozens of history modules that were available to me either out of relevance to their own studies or just sheer curiosity. Shouldn’t our own students have the same opportunities to widen their academic network and expand their experiences in education?

If I feel inclined to look into a particular period of literature or cinema that was touched upon in my lectures, or further explore the works of a historical figure within the scope of my studies, as a student at what is supposedly one of the finest universities in the country, I should be allowed the freedom to look into the courses and faculties that offer these insights. Trinity’s specialisations are wide and varied, and it’s a shame that even after spending four years as a student, most of us will never be given the opportunity to experience even a taste of what goes on in the lecture theatre just next door.

It might be too much to demand an instant opening and inter-connectivity of all of the university’s courses, or a curated list of relevant modules to any individual’s studies, but the benefits of a more open, broad, and comprehensive academic environment are not difficult to see. The convergence of knowledge between schools is enormous, and that potential shouldn’t be wasted in favour of a more linear, restrictive academic experience.

Eoin O'Donnell

Eoin O'Donnell is a current Deputy Comment Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister History student, and a former Deputy Investigations Editor.