Originally published in Volume III, Issue 7 on 6th February 1997 by Ciaran Burke.
The semesterisation debate is back again, with the Students’ Union seeking the views of students on the issues. Ciaran Burke looks at both sides of the argument.
In recent years the question as to whether UCD should adopt a college-wide semesterised system has proven controversial among students and staff alike. With the recent publication of an information pamphlet, outlining both pros and cons, and the undertaking of a College wide survey, Students’ Union Education Officer Cormac Moore has outlined his intention not to miss the boat on such a thorny issue this year. The survey has been undertaken to alleviate any ambiguity on student opinions. Previously, he confirms, both SU President Shane Fitzgerald and himself found themselves unable properly to voice students’ opinions to the semesterisation committee.
This fact remains central to Moore’s reasons of undertaking the survey and he remains adamant that student opinion must be conveyed if conflict is to be avoided. “Last year” he admits “we were caught unprepared and the issue was deferred until 1998, brushed under the carpet.” This year he aims to be able to pass on the opinions of the students.
Semesterisation eliminates for some the extreme pressures that a single elimination can bring, while for others it serves only to highlight the already inadequate College facilities. It is an issue that appeals to many for differing reasons, all valid points, all points that the SU have made clear and prominent on their information pamphlets in an effort to ensure that feedback is not merely that of whimsical opinions but those arising from solid (and available) facts.
On the plus side semesterisation offers a deal attractive enough to grave any Home Network Shopping Channel. Elimination of summer exam pressure, a greater variety of options, more flexibility for incoming students, valuable feedback, you get the picture. Why, students may ask, should we oppose this a deal as fabulous as this? The pamphlet, though, does not merely attempt to persuade the students as it also highlights the perceived disadvantages semesterisation might bring. Indeed, it highlights two points made by the All-Faculty Committee on Semesterisation (1994) which, the Education Officer states, was ironically “in favour of semesterisation.”
Firstly, this committee came to the conclusion that it would be “educationally weak and lead to lowering of standards’ and it would be “advancing short-term memory at the expense of intellectual development.” These though, are not the only perceived disadvantages, with first-years anxieties at having to do exams, increased strain on college facilities and a diminishing social life on campus being highlighted as possible problems.
Addressing the problem of Inter-faculty degrees, and particularly the problems arising with BBLS and Commerce International, Moore agrees that they are “a mess”. “We have” he states “brought in a new academic calendar which is the best compromise, but we’re still a long way off.” It was a case of either one or the other he believed, as conflict had arisen between exams in one faculty and lectures in others. College facilities would not cope, he said and their inadequacy would only serve to be underlined.
One of the main questions that has arisen as a result of the semesterisation debate in that of the timing of first semester exams. Currently Agriculture students have had to endure exams before Christmas, while Commerce have held out until after Christmas. Both have valid benefits to their situations. Pre-Christmas exams see the immediate production of results after the break and allow Erasmus students to return home without the spectre of exams looming. Those who wish to have their exams held after Christmas cite the benefits of having the whole of the Christmas period to study and not having to come back earlier. Having visited Commerce already, Cormac Moore believes that exams before Christmas are favoured there, although he has yet to visit other faculties.
Semesterisation undoubtedly has both advantages and disadvantages for students. The SU and those in the Education Office welcome the advantage of being able to voice the opinions of the majority of UCD students, ensuring no decision is made without the students’ views being heard. It is hoped that all students will consider both sides of this difficult argument before letting the Education Officer know what they feel.