The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about significant change. For students across the globe, this included the transition to online learning. In person lectures, tutorials, and seminars are but a distant memory. Many students and teaching staff alike are struggling with the challenges this brings. Yet, this transition is not without its advantages. One of these advantages is one Trinity has yet to make the most of. For many reasons that benefit both the college, the student body, and the public, Trinity should make available to the public a selection of pre-recorded lectures. A number of colleges around the world have taken this step. Many Ivy League colleges in the United States provide free courses that can be taken by anyone online. Universities in the UK, including Oxford and Cambridge, have for many years provided lectures online, posted on YouTube and their websites. Trinity now has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of others to benefit not only the public, but College itself.
Trinity already provides a variety of online courses for free to the public. They have provided Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) since 2014 in partnership with Futurelearn. These MOOCs feature an incredibly broad variety of subjects from ‘Journey to Birth’ to ‘Achieving Sustainable Development’. These courses are remarkably interesting and educational. Trinity has proven it has the systems and capabilities in place to provide free online learning. College should now accept the invitation to publish lectures that pertain to undergraduate courses, as well as continuing to provide the MOOCs already in existence.
“At €3000 annually, Ireland will have the highest fees in the EU post-Brexit.”
The most significant advantage of this move would be the education provided to the public. Education is powerful, yet in Ireland it can often be considered inaccessible. At €3000 annually, Ireland will have the highest fees in the EU post-Brexit. Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, has recently acknowledged that fees are too high but has yet to act on his own observation. Despite the aid of SUSI grant, extortionate fees render third-level education inaccessible for a significant number of people. Providing a variety of online lectures for free would benefit not only the aforementioned demographic, but also older people of a time when college was for Ireland’s elite and those who were lucky enough to attend college times ago. People far and wide who, for various reasons, who have been excluded from third level education, would be invited to take a glimpse into the thought-provoking and enlightening lectures taught at Trinity. Recently, Minister Harris announced the launch of over 14,000 free or subsidised places in higher education, under the Jobs Stimulus package. This enables people to upskill and hopefully return to work following the impact the pandemic has had on unemployment. Speaking of this promising scheme Alan Wall, CEO of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) commented that “it is great to see the HEA working in partnership with higher education institutions to unlock the flexibility of third level in dealing with these difficult times.” It is this flexibility that Wall speaks of that Trinity, and other third-level institutions, must take full advantage of. It can be argued that free access to course material might lessen the value of a student’s education, but as viewing lectures provides no degree or other qualifications, this is an arbitrary counter argument.
“Often prospective students are left to do a lot of guesswork in relation to the content of their selected course.”
Another significant benefit of the publication of a variety of lectures would be the enhanced awareness behind the selection of courses by prospective students. Often prospective students are left to do guesswork in relation to the content of their selected course. Most schools within the college have an indication of the classes available for students on their websites. Yet many students are left surprised come September when they discover the course they signed up for isn’t quite what they envisioned. This often leads to one of the things college tries its best to avoid: an increased dropout rate. Students being somewhat left in the dark about their prospective course leads to disappointment, stress and ultimately student dissatisfaction. Many second level students are not familiar with the courses available to them at third-level. How can students be expected to know what degree they want to study, if they don’t truly know what that degree entails?
A 2018 report performed by the HEA shows that one in six students do not progress from first to second year at third-level. This shockingly high figure stems from a multitude of complex issues, including socioeconomic factors and academic challenges. But it also includes a portion of people who simply selected the wrong course. Year after year, hundreds of students are failed by the lack of information provided by third-level institutions on each course. If prospective students were provided with a sample of lectures from their selected course, they would be able to make a more informed decision. An insight into how the course is taught, and its content, would allow each student to make the right decision on what course is for them. This has never been more easily done than this year, as the pandemic forces us to online learning, when lectures are already recorded and provided to students. It is time for college to make a number of the lectures free to the public.
“The “new normal” opens up many doors of opportunity to change the world.
The world, and Trinity, is at a crossroads. The “new normal” looms above fears that life as we knew it may never return. Yet, this “new normal” opens up many doors of opportunity to change the world. A change in accessibility to education is one of these opportunities. It is time for Trinity to lead the way in Ireland, to rectify the damage caused by extortionate education fees, and make available to the public a selection of lectures provided to undergraduate students.