Second-year Schols candidates consider legal action if their complaints are not addressed 

In an email to College staff, two Law students declare that measures put in place for this year’s Schols exams were “unacceptable” and must be remedied before scholarships are awarded 

Two second-year Law students have expressed that they would consider taking legal action against Trinity if Scholarships (Schols) are not “administered in a fair and equitable manner” for all candidates.

Schols is awarded by the College to mainly second-year students on the basis of a set of “searching” exams sat after Christmas. Students must achieve an overall first in these exams, to be entitled to “the most prestigious undergraduate award in the country,” of which benefits include free on-campus accommodation and a waiving of all tuition fees for the five-year term of the scholarship.

This exam season saw the instigation of a new system of surveillance over students, as well as the announcement of a quota system. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all Schols exams were moved online, and an invigilation system, by which students were asked to share their screens once to prevent their cheating, was introduced. 

Many students expressed concern over the invigilation system when they were introduced to the plan, claiming that the precautions put in place were insufficient to prevent cheating. 

Furthermore, College had proposed a new quota system to regulate the number of Schols awarded and to prevent “grade inflation”. In previous years, any student who achieved a predetermined grade point average was awarded a scholarship, but students felt that the newly introduced quota system added another layer of competition while taking the exams. 

Scholars are typically announced on Trinity Monday, during which all students who have been awarded the position of Scholar receive the honour during a public ceremony delivered from the steps of the Examination Hall. 

Ronan Murphy, a second-year Law student, and Ryan O’Reilly, a second-year Law and Business student, both sat the Schols exams in January, but since then, they have addressed “numerous authoritative persons and bodies within the College” in hopes of raising concern about the “administration, fairness, and selection procedure surrounding the recent Foundation Scholarship examinations” before the announcement of Scholars on Trinity Monday of this year.

Waiting to pursue further action until after the announcement of the Scholars, they claimed, would “prove grossly unfair to students concerned about the administration of the examination itself”. 

In an email circulated to senators representing Trinity as well as the School of Law Director of Undergraduate Studies Neville Cox and other relevant lecturers in the School of Law, Murphy and O’Reilly stated that they would willingly sit the examinations again “at an appropriate date and setting should it be considered the only solution”. 

However, if further action was not taken to resolve the student complaints regarding Schols before Trinity Monday, they claimed that they “are ready and willing to take this issue to the courts to ensure that the Foundation Scholarship examinations are administered in a fair and equitable manner as they have since the inception of the College”. 

The students continued that the decision to impose a quota on potential candidates this year represented “an unacceptable situation”. The proposed scholarship quota for all Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences students, of which both the Law and Business schools are members, is twenty-two students. 

“By enforcing quotas, the College is implying that the academic standard of candidates for Scholarship this year has increased dramatically, and therefore the number of scholarships should be limited to avert the effects of inflated grades,” stated the email. 

Students raised concern that the move online of Schols exams might have allowed for participants to access more resources to be used during the examinations in cases where these resources would not have been allowed in the past. However, as the email continues, the imposition of quotas that represent a raised standard on students was “nothing short of an expectation that candidates would attempt to cheat in the examination”. 

O’Reilly and Murphy cited the College Statutes and College Calendar in their refutation of the quotas, stating that “there exists no provision…which stipulates that quotas can, or should, be applied, other than the maximum allowance of seventy Foundation Scholars”. 

“These criteria are clear and unambiguous–there exists no provision for quotas and students who attain the said qualifications should be elected Scholars”. 

The email referenced concerns arising from the way College handled the protocols to prevent cheating, which provoked criticism from students even before the exams were held.

“External assistance could have been used effortlessly, and there were inadequate preventive measures to block this,” claimed the email. Its senders referenced insufficient monitoring of a student’s workspace, of which one only had to show 180 degrees prior to the tests, and the possibility that students “could have evaded the mechanisms put in place to check their computer screen”. 

Concerns about the elevated possibility of cheating on the online exams coupled with the imposed quotas have invited criticism from students even prior to the examinations, and O’Reilly and Murphy stated that if instances of cheating came to light, they “would prove deeply damaging to the academic integrity and reputation of Scholarship, and indeed the entire College”. 

“This simply does not represent a fair and standardised basis for any academic examination, let alone one of such high stakes and prestige as that of the Foundation Scholarship,” continued the email. 

The communication has already received support from the community, with Senator David Norris having responded that the students “have a good case for being allowed to address the Board on this matter” and offering that they may quote him as such. 

“As a former Scholar myself I am very concerned that the standard set should be maintained,” he asserted.

The students who brought forth the email hope to make their case of complaint in front of the Scholarship Board, the College Visitors, and other relevant College authoritative bodies before the announcement of Scholars set for this Trinity Monday. 

Audrey Brown

Audrey Brown is a Senior Fresher English Studies student, and the Deputy News Editor of Trinity News.