A Masters in disorganisation

Conor Feeney criticises the closure of the Smurfit School’s Careers Advisory Office as short-sighted in these troubled times

Considerable dismay and anger has swept across the Smurfit Business School in recent weeks. The faculty has decided there is no longer need for a careers centre offering advisory services to students. As a result, the contract with Smurfit’s sole careers advisor has not been renewed. In a time when students are probably finding it extremely difficult to find employment, this really represents a remarkable act of ignorance.In June of last year the President of the Smurfit Business School, Frank Roche, revealed that his school had “about 1,700 applications, which is about double where we were this time last year.” Keeping in mind the now-defunct careers service, he also commented the reason for the surge in applications was due to “the poor jobs market.”Professor Pat Gibbons, Associate Dean of Smurfit, recently commented on the closure through Blackboard. “It has come to my attention that there is some disquiet being expressed about changes to the careers function,” he said. “While the design delivery of this function is being modified, I want to assure you that your success is our success, and any changes are guided by that principle.” This has proved to be what it reads like: flowery yarn. Gibbons further noted that he would communicate with students subsequent to meeting with class representatives. Such further communication never occurred.A recent update by one class rep noted, “We asked that someone from Belfield come to Smurfit to talk to people who are doing interviews as we speak.” A further comment in the email – “Who knows what will happen, but it’s out there” – did not exactly convey confidence in a person expecting change. There seems to be a blatant lack of cohesive communication between the college faculty and student representatives.It is now a year since Hugh Brady voiced concerns that UCD could be €20m in debt if a review of expenditure was not undertaken. Other recent cuts have included assisted registration labs, which had not been budgeted for, despite the attendance of 1500 students in the past. While the blame for these cuts can be firmly pinned on fiscal conservatism on behalf of the government, the recent careers service cut in Smurfit School just does not resonate in reason. More students are engaging in Masters Programmes than ever before. The present Irish unemployment stands at 12.6 per cent. Yet now a decision has been taken to end a lifeline for students desperately seeking employment.No doubt Hugh Brady and the Smurfit faculty will keep reminding us of why these cuts emphasise the need for college fees. I’m not in the business of conspiracy theories, but considering the levels of registration in Smurfit this year were double that of the last, why the need for cuts? One consideration is the possibility the excessive cuts are purposefully being made to facilitate the call for even higher college fees for students in the years to come.The one issue of which I am certain is that full-scale college fees should – and must – never be introduced in UCD. Smurfit Masters courses already have fees starting at over €11,000 for a one-year programme. I am personally aware of a number of students who were unable and unwilling to attend, simply due to the current level of fees. Further increases are not justified and I would strongly urge against preventing access for even Irish students currently considering the postgraduate option.Idiotic cuts in services will only serve to damage the reputation of one of Europe’s most prestigious and acknowledged business schools. If the administration were unhappy with the services being offered by the current careers advisor, a secondary contract should have been set up in advance of the current contractual cessation.One student commented that the college’s organisation was of “shocking quality” with “no accountability.” Another international student remarked that she was “disappointed” and “expected more” from the school, while another alluded to the affair as “farcical” and noted the irony of a careers advisor no longer having a job. This level of disgruntlement has continued since no appropriate solution has yet been proposed.Overall there is a simple solution to this problem, and it amazes me that no resolution has been reached. A careers advisor has a fundamental role to play in any university environment, especially in the current economic climate. Not only do I strongly recommend that Smurfit fix this problem as soon as possible, but endeavour to avoid alienating their students in the future. One matter is certain: the college will not have trouble filling the vacancy.