Testing times


Peter Molloy examines the effect of the cancellation and re-introduction of an exam shuttle bus, and the imposition of RDS parking fees for students during the exam period.

In less than three weeks time, students from across UCD’s academic schools will begin to make the bi-annual migration to exam facilities around Dublin to undergo Christmas examinations. Some time before the first papers land on desks, problems already appear to have arisen for UCD students anticipating end of semester exams.

Within the past month, a series of decisions have seen the shuttle bus service usually provided by the university to assist students getting to and from examinations withdrawn, before being replaced at the eleventh hour by the Students’ Union (SU). In the same week, it was confirmed by the university that the complimentary car parking usually provided to students in UCD’s principal exam venue, the RDS, would no longer be available for this year’s Christmas exam period.

Taken in their entirety, these developments are unsettling for students already facing the inevitable anxiety associated with annual academic exams. It is fair to say that not having a bus route would exacerbate certain students to breaking point.

The free bus service which has traditionally been mounted to facilitate students moving between UCD’s main campus and the exam centres represents something considerably more important than a mere convenience. With timetabling meaning that most students will almost unavoidably face at least one day with more than one individual exam, getting to and from separate test sites and the university’s campus and residences can pose a serious problem.

The service, which had previously been offered by the university, went a great distance toward resolving that difficult situation. The service also mitigates the inconvenience that students are exposed to regarding the fact that exams are off-campus, a situation that is universally accepted as an annoyance.

This in itself presents difficulties, particularly for freshers, especially those who are not from the Dublin locality, who are largely unaware of how to even get to the exam centres from UCD. The 46A and the 10 bus routes are frequent, but they do not drop students directly at the door of the RDS. Also, for Blackrock exam centre, the bus service, namely, the 17, is often described as unreliable and sporadic, at the best of times.
In its forthcoming absence, it is somewhat challenging to argue that the inconveniences faced by UCD students during an already stressful period will not be increased.

The proposal by the SU to organise a replacement bus service is an undeniably welcome gesture. It standsas particularly apt when viewed in the context of a representative body, which has already made firm proposals for a subsided transport service to aid socialising UCD students travelling to and from Dublin city centre on weekday evenings.

Even allowing for this last minute olive branch, the SU’s proposals still fall short of the standard necessary to ensure a fully hassle-free Christmas exam season. Although the new and improved bus service will satisfy some of the demand from students facing awkward exam schedules, it comes with certain definite caveats which will inevitably limit its effectiveness.

It’s a rather basic fact that exam and study pressures at this time of year are significant enough in isolation to be multiplied by inconvenience over transport.

Most prominent amongst these limitations is the fact that buses will not now service the full complement of exam destinations catered to in preceding years of operation. Rather than including UCD’s Blackrock campus in its route – a location which sees a significant level of usage for seasonal exams – transport will now be confined solely to moving students between the Belfield campus and the main exam centre at the RDS in Ballsbridge.

The proposed solution is also notable for the fact that it is unable to provide a guarantee of places for all students wishing to avail of it – something explicitly confirmed by representatives of the SU in conversation with this newspaper.

In the absence of a firm undertaking that transport will be available for all students facing logistical difficulties, problems will remain for those compromised by tightly packed schedules.

It’s a rather basic fact that exam and study pressures at this time of year are significant enough in isolation to be multiplied by inconvenience over transport.

That this less than ideal situation has been compounded by the withdrawal of free parking at the RDS would seem to negate any idea of a “carrot and stick” approach to solving the issue. The university has declared that, due to funding restraints, it can no longer afford to subsidise the parking in the exam centres, but this is bound to have massive implications for students.

Regardless of whether bus routes are available or not, some students, particularly those who are commuting to UCD from a long distances feel that driving is the only reasonable method of getting to exams. Forcing people to sit exams where it will cost €5 per exam simply to park their cars will inevitably cause unrest amongst students.

Hypothetically, it can be envisaged that students who feel it necessary to drive to UCD could park their cars on the Belfield grounds and then avail of the SU shuttle bus. However, the chocker-block campus car parks, as well as the uncertainty of obtaining a place on the SU bus, will potentially cause as much anxiety as the exams themselves to students.

Vice-President for Students, Dr Martin Butler has made references to UCD being a “community” and “an extended family”. However, the added pressure being mounted on students in terms of simply getting to their exams, it appears that this Christmas, many of our ‘family’ will be left out in the cold.