Last week saw Minister for Further and Higher Education and Research Simon Harris announce that €105 million had been secured for the safe return of third level students to campus this September. The package included an extra €21 million to target issues such as mental health, financial difficulties, as well as a fund to support disadvantaged learners through the Mitigating Educational Disadvantage Fund.
The inclusion of this extra €21 million for student support reflects a recent trend in administrative bodies towards an increased awareness of the wellbeing of students. While only three million of this 21-million-euro has been dedicated to mental health services, this funding falls in line with further actions taken to benefit students suffering from mental health issues. This includes Harris’ instigation last October of the National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework, which was established as Ireland’s first ever national framework to address the issue of student’s mental health, as well as means of suicide prevention.
Likewise, that the €21 million provided also seeks to aid those at a disadvantage shows a certain proactiveness within the Department. This, coupled with the €5 million dedicated to improving disability services on college campuses (€482,364 of which was granted to Trinity) shows a desire to make strides to improve conditions on campus for students with disabilities, mental health difficulties, or other needs which are currently not being met.This money was given to fund projects as diverse as The Inclusive Online Technology Project, The Global Safety & Security Solution, as well as physical access improvements on campus.
However, though an increasing awareness for disadvantaged students from administrative bodies is becoming more and more apparent, these students still face shortfalls. In June Trinity unveiled several new multi-purpose kiosks for the Arts Block that appeared to have been designed without concern for physical accessibility. This shows that there still remains a detach between some aspects of college administration and the actual needs of a significant portion of Trinity students.
The design of these kiosks raised concerns among Trinity College Dublin Student Union (TCDSU) and Trinity Ability Co-Op when they were revealed last month, sparking outrage from certain TCDSU officers. It was questioned why these kiosks, which had been in planning since 2018, had in a three-year time frame not been inspected to ensure they were accessible to all students.
It therefore must be asked how far Trinity still has to go in making its campus a wholly accessible one, as it dedicates hundreds of thousands of euros to projects targeting issues of inclusivity while simultaneously unveiling new permanent features of campus that are entirely non-inclusive.
That Estates and Facilities had allegedly given assurance that the kiosks would be accessible for all, only for this to be countered by Trinity Disability Services who have said they were not consulted for the project, implies that despite the recent funding and new facilities and services, there is still much work to be done at a college level to ensure these services can actually be utilised to provide entire accessibility to students effectively,
Whilst it should be seen as a positive step forward that aforementioned funding has come through at all, it cannot be ignored that a certain disconnect in attitude does still exist. Funding from Government and any new services provided will be entirely hindered if this disconnect persists. We cannot expect disadvantaged students to feel properly catered for, if College continues to neglect them in their planning of further permanent or temporary features of campus.
However, as mentioned, it becomes increasingly apparent that there is a growing awareness for the needs of these students in College and ongoing efforts to make Trinity an inclusive environment should not be ignored. That they have announced the €482,364 granted will be put towards access improvements shows a definite awareness of these issues. Long-standing features of campus have been barriers to accessibility for too long and that Trinity has now put a sizable fund towards improving this hints that real change could be around the corner.
With a new Provost coming to office it will be interesting to see how and if this change manifests itself. But oversights such as the kiosk issue undermine these efforts and present Trinity as a place that may be willing to include its students, but will not always remember to do so.