Plenty of room for improvement in allocation process, say students

In response to numerous requests from students and Trinity News, College has clarified its process surrounding the allocation of highly sought-after accommodation on campus to students. Many students have expressed concerns about the process which they have claimed to be opaque and arbitrary. These feelings have been exacerbated this year, with half of the residences in New Square being renovated, reducing the number of places available.

The summer months also saw the start of an online campaign to seek a full explanation of the room allocation process. Pursued through Facebook, this campaign sought to highlight the perceived unfairness of the current system, its alleged lack of transparency and the lack of an appeals process. The founder of the group, Lexi Finnegan, wrote: “am I the only one out there who thought they had a pretty good application for campus accommodation and was rejected out of hand? I just phoned the office to discover there is no official appeals procedure. Have you ever heard of a fair system with no proper appeals procedure?”

A joint statement issued to Trinity News by Tony Dempsey, College Accommodation Officer, and Emma Stokes. the Registrar of Chambers, to whom the Provost delegates the authority to allocate rooms on campus, gave the following account of the process.

In the process of allocating rooms, Scholars come first, in line with their entitlement in the College Statutes. After this certain groups are given priority – the Central Societies Committee and the DU Central Athletic Club can nominate students, there is a scheme for Irish speaking students and College has international arrangements with other institutions. The remainder are allocated using “both a combination of selection and random ranking” though this year “once certain basic criteria were met” the rooms were allocated at random. What these “basic criteria” are and how the “selection” takes place remains unclear and College did not clarify this when asked.

Dr. Stokes said that there appears to be “widespread misconceptions in the student body about the process involved in room allocations. It is not similar to a marking scheme for an exam and incremental marks are not awarded for each criterion. In particular, the range or extent of a person’s involvement is clubs and societies is not ranked.”

Evidence of a “significant contribution to college life will be taken into account” is however a stated criterion on the College website entitled “Room Application – Criteria”, and the application process allows students to make a “personal statement” to support their application. These statements are read by the eight assistants to the Junior Dean and the Registrar of Chambers.

In previous years, the number of places to be allocated in this way was 265 and these are reserved for Senior Sophisters, though this year there were just 200 available due to the redevelopment of New Square. This year there were 2,401 applications for accommodation, and approximately 1,000 of these specified Campus accommodation as their preferred option. Aside from rooms allocated in this way, 200 places are set aside for Scholars, 85 for sports club and society nominations, and the Irish scheme; and 130 for Postgraduates and one-year students. There are normally 700 residential rooms in total in College for students.
According to the website of the Registrar of Chambers, the basic criteria for allocating rooms comes from a desire to create “a vibrant academic community” that is in line with the vision of College in its Strategic Plan. To this end, the website states that usually students will only be allocated rooms for one year at a time, that students outside Dublin are given “preference” (though it also states all applications will be considered) and that evidence of a “significant contribution to college life will be taken into account”.

Many students this year have complained about the system, feeling they were not treated fairly and that the system lacked transparency and accountability.

Students who have spoken to Trinity News, but who declined to be named fearing it would jeopardise their chances of being allocated a room in the future, have complained of not getting rooms despite being able to claim very strong involvement in clubs, societies and publications, both in the past and in the coming year. Furthermore, some students felt that others who they felt to have had made less of a contribution had been allocated rooms, thus raising their concerns about the fairness of the process.

This year, students not allocated rooms were put on a waiting list, and were allocated them by random selection as they became available. An email sent to these students stated that “rooms are allocated by random allocation to students on this list, with preference given to final year students”.

Ms. Finnegan organised a group online to campaign against the system, and here students have vented anger about a perceived lack of transparency and the lack of an appeals process. They feel that they have no way of knowing why their applications were not successful, and no way of making appeals against this.

One post on the page states “Also, a classmate of mine … at first didn’t get an offer. Then, she heard that [an official] from the CSC was going to do something about the situation, a few people from different socs didn’t get an offer and weren’t happy. So as a committee member of [a society], she emailed [a CSC official], who then emailed whoever; and the next day she got an offer.” Others on the group have urged a Freedom of Information request, noting that “Under the Freedom of Information Act, you are entitled to be given reasons for decisions taken by public bodies (i.e. Trinity) that affect you.”

Ms Finnegan also called for College to make an allowance for Trinity students returning from exchange years abroad in their Junior Sophister year, making the process of finding accommodation for final year more difficult when they return. “I believe it is as a positive disincentive to TCD students to study abroad if they are left homeless for their fourth and final year, unable to find accommodation because they have been studying (and representing their university) abroad” she said

A source quoted in this article, Lexi Finnegan, is also a staff member of Trinity News in her capacity of Deputy Sports Editor.