Schols is just another freebie for the privileged




It seems like a fantastic idea: test students’ originality, critical thinking and application of knowledge in a rigorous set of exams, and reward the best candidates. For me, the problem arises when the reward is worth thousands. Free fees, dinner and an apartment for five years; with so many students struggling to make ends meet it’s ridiculous to give a free apartment to someone who can afford one anyway.


Of course, not all scholars could do without the money; some of them genuinely appreciate it. But more than half of the scholars I know went to south Dublin private schools. They’d be perfectly fine living at home, and even if they wanted to move out, many could pay for it anyway. We shouldn’t be throwing money at people who are comfortable while the grant is being cut. Never mind the fact that schols is easier in certain courses than it is in others, meaning some people are already disadvantaged before they start.


The logic of schols

So why don’t we means test schols and give a smaller reward to those who don’t need a free apartment? Because schols, as a whole, with some exceptions, privileges people who need less. Consider the way in which schols is structured. You have to take a huge amount of extra time out to study material not necessarily relevant to your current course, and the exams are just after Christmas. This specifically disadvantages people who don’t live in Dublin and need to go home over holiday periods, but it also removes the chance of getting schols from people who have to work a part time job to pay their bills. It forces people to spend a disproportionate amount of time on college work when they could be getting more involved in societies or sport and keeps out people who, for work or family reasons, just don’t have the time. The sad thing is that some of these people get firsts in their regular college work because they can budget that time, but with the extra pressure of schols, this can’t happen.


Even if schols wasn’t an extra set of exams though, and even if the scholarship was only based on final exams, I have an objection to merit-based scholarships generally. First, there still remains the problem that some people who get them will not need the money. And more generally, all merit-based scholarships privilege those with more advantages instead of providing support to those who most need them most. Think about the entrance exhibition; an expensive book voucher given to students who do well in state exams. Wouldn’t those books be better in the hands of people who can’t afford textbooks? People who didn’t do as well in state exams, but got to Trinity on the Trinity Access Programme?


Compounding underprivilege

Financial support should always go to the ones who need it the most, which can’t happen if you give it based on merit. It would be fine to give prizes and titles for academic achievement, but when you bring money in you take it away from Trinity Access Programme and from money that could be shared out among more students. Aside from the obvious financial privileges, it’s problematic to give extra advantages in college to people who already have so many. Scholars have more sway in college. They have their own committee to fight for their interests. They get to vote in college elections. To give privileges that could be important to every student specifically to people who get a first in a set of exams seems counter-intuitive. Why not just give them to everyone? Presumably because the reason is to keep scholars happy and to make people want schols; if people are kept in the thrall of scholarships by extra privileges and financial rewards, the system will keep going because it stays popular. Most of the discussion of schols this year has revolved around their rewards being taken away, but no-one seems to be questioning whether they should have them in the first place. We don’t want to resist the system, because wouldn’t it be great if you got it?


As to the grand tradition of schols, it seems intuitively untrue to me that we should continue to do something just because we have always done it. The grand idea of dining on commons with the other scholars is so much less important than making sure every student has equal opportunities. That means giving more, not less, to people who don’t have enough money and aren’t as academically talented as others.


Ask yourself: how many scholars do you know from outside of Dublin? How many scholars do you know who gave up a part-time job after getting schols, relieved that they didn’t need to work anymore? How many mature students and people from the Trinity Access Programme are scholars? If a scholarship is really merit based, it should be equally difficult for everyone to get. And a scholarship based on exam results shouldn’t exist when the money could be going where it’s needed. The problem will continue to be that people want the benefits, and the ones that can get them have no incentive to have them go somewhere they’re really needed.

Dee Courtney
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Dee Courtney

Dee was Online Editor of Trinity News and a senior sophister History and Political Science student.
Dee Courtney
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  • resipisence

    The money is going where it is needed: providing an incentive for the top students to stay in TCD until they have completed some research, to make sure the most talented researchers trained by TCD remain in TCD rather than emigrating.

    You can argue that this doesn’t work, but if you are arguing that TCD should value something other than academic achievement then you need to actually make that case, instead of just assuming it and expecting people to agree with you.

    The more internationally valued TCD is, the more it can spend on services for students, so the argument could be made that schols helps keep TCD in the top rankings and this secures funding for students. If this is true, then your argument is null and void.

    How about some actual facts next time you do journalism?

    • Shay

      That’s the party line alright, and was probably true back when high-achieving, high-quality students were likely to remain in one Irish university for their entire careers, but that’s just not how academia works any more. What proportion of scholars actually stay and do a Phd in Trinity? (And of those, what’s the split by subject?) I’d imagine it’s low, and dropping every year as the expectation grows that high-quality researchers will have worked in a variety of universities, encountering a wide range of ideas and building a wide network of contacts, rather than staying in one cloistered environment for 50 years.

      If you actually wanted to spend the money that gets spent on Schols on attracting amazing research talent, then allocating money based on exams halfway through Senior Freshman year, and spending €15-20k per student paying their rent, reg fee and dinner bills for their final years of undergrad, is a really *terrible* way to do it. Creating additional funded Phd posts allocated on the basis of an actual Phd application would be a far, far better way to get that result, and removing a system that alienates loads of your students (either through getting it via 3-6 months of hellish study and then burning out, or not getting it and being bitter, or through just pissing them off in its general privileged-ness) could only help. Surely any scholar who’s actually the type of ultra-bright research asset you describe would manage that? In which case, you’re really only hoping that the two free years of bed and board convinces a few more highly-intelligent and ambitious people to stay in Trinity out of, like, gratitude or something, which seems just a bit counter-intuitive.

      Anecdotally, I know very few scholars who stayed on for postgrads. My year in BESS had (iirc) eight scholars. One of them stayed in Trinity to do postgraduate research, because he had family in Dublin that he wanted to stay near. The rest either went elsewhere for their postgraduate studies or went directly into non-academic work. That’s a pretty poor return for the thousands of euros spent on the group as a whole; conservatively, including subsidised rent, lost registration fees and daily meals, you’re talking at least €100k over the two years that they all spent finishing their undergrad degrees, for a guy who would’ve applied to Trinity anyway.

      Like, can you (or anyone) explain to me how Schols actually retains “research talent” in a way that a less-costly scholarship programme targeted only at postgrad funding would?

      • resipisence

        I completely agree, if we assume that low numbers of schols stay on to do research then it doesn’t make any sense. My point is, we need research to make that claim.

        I don’t expect people to extensively research comments on the internet, but journalists writing for a newspaper should have at least done some googling before spewing an uninformed, illogical mess of an opinion into the public sphere.

        Regardless of research, this article made no sense to anyone who didn’t already share the author’s assumptions about what college it’s supposed to be for. People before profit is a great moral principle, but applying it to the business-centred world around us takes nuance. This article had none.

      • resipisence

        Ooh, also scrapping schols in favour of college-funded research is something I could definitely get behind (coming from someone currently studying for schols)

  • Alan

    The Trinity Access Programme *does* provide for books, as well as transport and materials

  • Patrick King

    I actually think mature students are over-represented amongst scholars. I can’t find anything to confirm the number either way, but the fact that the average student can’t call to mind a large number of mature student scholars isn’t surprising, it’s a small subset of a small subset.

  • Jack Larkin

    I mean, you do understand what kind of institution you’re studying in right? We’re not the Trinity Foundation of Sure-everyone’s-equal-at-everything. This is an ancient seat of learning designed to reward academic rigour. This is an institution that rewards excellence at the highest levels, no matter the candidates background. I know scholars outside of Dublin, I know how hard they worked. Speak for yourself, but please don’t try ventriloquise all students who work a part time job or are from outside the County.

    Secondly, we do need to do more for struggling students, but that should frankly be a separate issue of government and college policy that doesn’t require an attack on the academic prestige, practice, and standard of our institution.

  • Áine Byrne

    Schols rewards academic excellence in the same way that companies reward good work with bonuses. If Bill and Joe have worked really hard this year and their company is awarding bonuses they don’t say “Hmmm…well Bill’s family are well of so he shouldn’t get as much of a bonus as Joe”. Means testing Schols would be just as ridiculous as this situation.

    I can see where you’re coming from in saying people who have to work to pay for their tuition and the cost of living away from home are at a disadvantage, but I can say from experience that the majority of these people spend a lot of that money on going out and socialising. If you take the going out and socialise out of the equation you can afford to work a lot fewer hours and maybe even take some time off coming up to the exams. I have spoken to people who have done this and got Schols.

    I got Schols 3 years ago and I gave up my entire Christmas break and my social life for a good 3 months to study, as did most people I know. I think it’s unfair to say that just because my family had the money to support me during my degree I deserve the rewards of Schols less than other people whom I worked just as hard as.

    I agree that cutting grants is unfair and that everyone should be given the opportunity to study at university, but that has nothing to do with Schols. The reason Trinity rewards scholars with free accommodation is to enhance their learning experience, not because they can’t afford to live away from home. I think it’s also important to note that the funding for Schols had also been cut in recent years.

  • disqus_pIhhnueTJM

    You’re silly.

  • JB

    Perhaps we ought to put a stop to high achievers attaining highly paid jobs too. There are plenty of people who just simply aren’t good enough for those jobs that could really use the extra cash.

  • Listener

    As a scholar, I obviously have a bias in how I feel about this. I am from South county dublin and went to a private secondary school, only due to the fact that I had an amazing self sacrificing and practical mother who always put the needs of her children first. Geography or background does not equal privilege. I had a part time job before and after getting schols. It’s fine to disagree with the college’s use of funds, but I do not appreciate being attacked as a person for something I worked damn hard to achieve, because I am from a certain part of the country or went to a certain school.

  • Disappointed Guest

    I for one am disappointed in the TN for publishing such trip without requiring that the person who wrote this piece actually have any figures to back up her claims. You only serve to degrade the reputation of your paper by publishing such poor quality articles. The ‘half of the scholars’ alone is a huge claim which is firstly completely untrue, and an apology should be issued for insulting the close to 100% of Scholars who worked so very hard to get Schol.
    I also think your claim of “need to go home over” Chirstmas is completely incorrect. Nobody “needs” to go home for Christmas. They choose to do so, if they wish. If you want to be a Schol, homwever, for most people it requires giving up Christmas. Few people studying for Schol seriously takes Chirstmas holidays.


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