A fall in standards

As recent cutbacks begin having an effect on the quality of education, Nicole Casey looks at what is being done to improve our current situation.

The current economic climate is having major effects on everyone; cutbacks are widespread, taxes are increasing, and people are just generally unhappy with the present situation. The students of UCD are also starting to feel this disillusionment with both the administration and our current government, in the form of the new library closures on Sundays and the issues arising with the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grants. Questions are being raised, protests organised, and students are looking to the Students’ Union for a desperately needed solution.

The Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) was a system introduced for students entering full time education in the academic year 2012/2013, replacing the old system of application through a local Vocational Education Committee. Unfortunately, the system has not been as successful as the government and students had originally hoped, and currently UCD students waiting for their grants to come through have been denied access to the UCD’s libraries.

Students’ Union Education Officer Shane Comer described the situation as “absolutely shambolic.” When asked what was being done for these students and their current lack of access to the necessary resources the library provides, Shane explained: “We’ve managed to negotiate a temporary sort of thing, because the students on SUSI shouldn’t be penalised, it’s not their fault, its SUSI’s fault. So a temporary access… has been granted to them until their grant is processed.”

Students in receipt of grant payments are not the only few who are suffering at the hands of the library this semester. So far this year, the library has remained closed on Sundays, and is not expected to reopen until the start of November. While the administration of UCD have cited “lack of use by students” as the reason for closing the library on Sundays, Comer believes this is completely untrue: “It ranges from around the 250 mark in the early months to about 600 when midterms kick in. And then obviously exam time it would peak at around 2,000.” While the library is due to reopen for the final weeks of term, catering for the 2,000 students who use it at this time of the year, its closures throughout the early semester weeks has been felt by many. Students such as postgraduates and PhD candidates are at a huge loss, as are the undergraduates who live on campus, who may need the peace and quiet the library offers to complete assignments.

But what is being done? Students are banding together and organising protests and marches, such as that organised by Karl Gill on October 18th. When asked about his involvement in the protest against library closures, Gill admitted: “I’d rather see the Union out doing something like this, because that’s the reason I’m organising something like this, in the absence of the SU organising it and, needless to say, it would be a bigger protest if the SU were organising it because they’ve got bigger resources.”

Although the SU did not organise the protest against library cuts, Gill did admit that they sympathise with the issue, noting that a number of the sabbatical officers did take part in the march to the library, with President Rachel Breslin speaking at it. However, the Union are focusing their efforts on talking with library representatives and creating a new Library Users Committee, something which Comer believes we are desperately in need of: “I believe an issue like this wouldn’t have arisen had there been a solid library users committee in place. I’ve been in discussion with the associate librarians and we’re hoping to have…our first meeting this November. It’s the sort of forum where stuff along these lines, issues such as this, would have been brought up and would have been discussed.”

Unfortunately, the library is not the only area in which we are currently suffering or underperforming. UCD does not currently have a language lab for students who wish to hone language skills or prepare for exams. Health Science students have recently been left without a computer lab, and of course the current redevelopment being undertaken in the Science building has left a lot to be desired in regards to basic facilities. It is understandable so that the university has been falling consistently in terms of world rankings, and the new library cuts will only further hinder this problem.

Gill feels that students’ unhappiness with the new library cuts will result in a national and international fall in standards of UCD: “I don’t know how they manage to rank these things. I mean, how do they grade what’s a good university and what’s not? But I would say…you can’t have a good university without a working library that students are happy with.” Comer believes that the university’s ranking is a top priority of the administration, but a secondary one of the Union: “There’s a matter of pride involved. When you are a member of UCD you want it to be the best. But in terms of it being a priority of the Union…I wouldn’t list it as a massive priority.”

While the administration is putting a major focus on improving our world rankings, students are suffering without basic services, such as a Sunday library. “Do I believe UCD is hindering students and their performance in their degrees?” our Education Officer concludes, “Inadvertently, yes. Not deliberately but inadvertently, they are.”