Elaine McCahill and Tommy Gavin address the massive cuts to student services announced recently.
The news in recent weeks that student services, through the form of the Capitated bodies, are due to be cut again is another blow to the student experience that we’ve trying to cling onto since the recession began. We’ve been paying more across the board, whether it’s for fees, rent or transport and have consistently received less in return. College has consistently cut services throughout College but when do these cost-saving measures get to a point that they stert to seriously negatively affect the student experience? As detailed in our lead news story, the moratorium on hiring will lead to some departments losing up to a quarter of their staff when current faculty members retire. It has been ruled that these staff cannot be replaced with central money, instead they can only be replaced with private money, again putting inordinate amount of pressure on the alumni community and individual donors. As such the academic experience of students is going to suffer as modules are going to have to be dropped or classes made bigger in order to accommodate having less staff.
“The potential loss to the SU almost equals the salary of one full-time sabbatical officer. These are not minor cuts; they are ones that will seriously affect the quality of experience for present and future students.”
In terms of the services offered to students, as well as extracurricular activities, the Capitations committee is absolutely central. A potential 10% cut across two years would be absolutely detrimental to the services provided by these bodies. For the GSU, this would mean the potential loss of their academic journal and their orientations week, which is held annually in September. For Trinity Publications, this cut would equal the total amount given to provisionally recognised publications every year, such as the Histories and Humanities Journal or the Social and Political Review. The loss suffered by Ducac would almost definitely mean the introduction of higher Sports Centre fees. As for the SU and the CSC it would almost definitely result in a dramatic loss in services. The potential loss to the SU almost equals the salary of one full-time sabbatical officer. These are not minor cuts; they are ones that will seriously affect the quality of experience for present and future students.
One can’t but help feel that the powers-at-be are helplessly disconnected from the real experience of both students and staff. The university-as-a-business view that the Provost and his ministers holds is baffling to the average student. Yes, we understand that the college needs to make money in order to survive but it appears that he is blinkered to the everyday reality that exists and sees everything in monetary value rather in terms of its meaning to students. He appears to privilege the establishment of a new ‘Trinity brand’ in order to attract fee-paying students from abroad, rather than focussing on the establishment of services for these potential students. Further to this, rumours have been abound this week that Mr. Prendergast is hoping to convert all of Front Square into accommodation by the end of his tenure. The removal of offices, departments and society rooms from Front Square once again perpetuates the vision of College as simply being a money-making scheme.
By removing all society rooms etc from Front Square, it would remove the student experience of attending a historic university. One of the greatest joy and privileges of attending a university such as Trinity, is that if you work your way up through our little bubble, whether through societies or otherwise, rooms with magnificent views will await you. Where else in the world can one claim that the view from their college society room is one such as College Green? The history of our city-centre campus is central to our experience and one can only fear that if the Provost has his way, he’ll have all classes moved to a bunch of Stalin-esque buildings in Santry while he runs the campus as a tourist visiting centre. That may be a tad dramatic but the policies and outlook of all the higher-ups do not lend themselves to a well-rounded experience. Since I arrived at Trinity over four years ago, I have never felt as though there was such a disconnect between the students and those in the ivory-tower/No.1 Grafton St. This feeling of uneasiness is spreading among the staff too as the running of college has become more centralised and faculty members are no longer consulted on budgetary meetings and the like. This sense of frustration is building and that level of discontent is certainly not good for the efficiency that the Provost so clearly desires.
In the anticipation of a new five year strategic plan, Trinity is in the process of assessing its priorities and its values. The ways the College operates are being evaluated and adjusted in anticipation of a five year Strategic Plan for 2014-2019. This puts the College and everyone associated with it, especially students and academics, in a very important position. At stake is not just the future of education in Trinity, but what Trinity itself will come to mean. Literally; one of focuses of the Strategic Plan is a rebranding effort which would include changing the name and logo, partly because apparently when trying to sell the idea of Trinity in Asia, one obstacle is the confusion over whether Trinity is a second level institution, due to the inclusion of the word ‘College’.
What makes this such an important juncture though is not just what will eventually make up the plan, but the reaction to what the plan will or may be. The values reflected in the current iteration of Trinity’s plan for its next five years are decidedly market based, and leave little room for either students, or the seemingly naïve role of the University as a centre of learning. With the imposition of what has been called a ‘techno-bureaucratic’ business model, the idea that the primary role of the University is to serve the economy, fundamentally undermines the intellectual creativity and expression that allows for true innovation and, more importantly, shouldn’t need to justify itself.
Of course Trinity doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and there are running costs, not least during a time of imposed austerity when the least directly measurable facilities are the most vulnerable. But it seems hypocritical to reflect on the necessity of the College to serve as an engine for growth by focusing on creating 160 start-up companies over the next three years, when those would-be entrepreneurs have nowhere to live. Dublin is facing a very real housing crisis, and students are among the worst affected. According to Daft.ie, average rental prices have increased 7.5% since last year, and properties available to rent in August dropped to 2,394, from 4212 in August 2012, having been over 8,500 years ago. The fact is that the economy also does not operate in a vacuum. If the College wants to play the engagement game, it is duplicitous to do so on exclusively economic terms and should be advocating at the same time on a social level, particularly for students.
However, it is clear from the student exclusion from any plans moving forward even within Trinity, that we are at best seen as commodities to be deployed, and at worst; resource sucking parasites.