After a year of moderate reforms, Eithne Dodd looks at the state of UCD’s Bachelor of Arts programme.
The BA programme in UCD has undergone a lot of changes since the beginning of the year. These changes include the abolition of the module “Introduction to Arts”, changing arts students’ UCards, and the unflattening of the BA programme for current first year students onwards. These changes are meant to change the image of the UCD Arts programme for current and prospective students.
Many people were involved in the changes to the BA programme that took place this year including the Dean of Arts Muiris O’Súilleabháin, the SU education officer Amy Fox, the Human Sciences Convenor Melanie O’Donavon and the Arts Convenor Conor Rock. Conor Rock said: “There is a due process to which things are done in UCD. In order to achieve something you must understand and follow how things operate, as well as knowing what to expect. It is important to know who to contact to air issues.”
“Personally I found the Dean of Arts, Professor Muiris O’Súilleabháin, extremely good to work with and always willing to listen to any student related issues I brought to him. . . . The SU sits on a number of committees and boards that review and implement change in the University. I personally sat on the BA program board, Academic Council and the UPB.”
This year was the last year that the module “Introduction to Arts” will be a compulsory module taught to first year arts students.
This year was the last year that the module “Introduction to Arts” will be a compulsory module taught to first year arts students. The UCDSU was heavily involved in the abolition of this module: “Amy (the SU Education Officer), Melanie (the SU Human science Convenor) and I all played a role in getting the university to assess the module” says Conor Rock. “Through surveys and personal feedback, as well as working with the university leadership and academics the module was assessed and then removed, it was a collaborative effort.”
“The module ultimately failed in what it was set out to achieve, which was to aid in the transition into college life. It ended up creating more problems for certain students, who it should have ideally been helping.”
While there are has been no plan to replace the module Conor Rock says “It is vital that there is some transition aid put in place.” Ideas that have been put forward to aid incoming arts students in the transition from secondary school to college include a tutor system. A tutor system would involve a tutor being assigned a group of students at the starts of the year. The tutor could then be used to students to turn to if they ran into problems. “More emphasis will placed on schools to help integrate and reach out to students, thus making them feel a part of the individual disciplines and comfortable in seeking help and/or advice.”
For current first years onwards the BA Programme will be unflattened meaning there will be a clear progression for each of the three years of the degree
The Student UCards of Arts students has also been changed this year. Now, instead of saying “Arts” in the programme section of the card, the card will read “BA in Econ and Geog”, for example. Conor Rock says this is to address the lack of identity around students in the BA programme as well as breaking down negative stereotypes surrounding arts students. “The introduction of the subject on the UCard is part of an overall aim to create a sense of identity with students, there schools and each other.
Currently the BA programme is the only programme in UCD that is flattened. However for current first years onwards the BA Programme will be unflattened meaning there will be a clear progression for each of the three years of the degree and that students will not be able to remain at stage 2 for their second and third year. Conor Rock believes “The unflattening of the degree should lead to more stage definition and clarity for students registering for modules”.
A particular problem to the UCD Arts Programme is its substantial drop-out rate compared to other degrees and arts degrees in other colleges
Although the changes already made to the arts programme are substantial Conor Rock believes there is more that can be done: “One is limited with the amount of things that can be achieved in a year. I perhaps would have liked more student-school engagement. I was able to get a couple of schools to run academic/student tea/coffee days which began the process of reaching out to students. Though there is still a lot that needs to be done for student-school engagement.”
A particular problem to the UCD Arts Programme is its substantial drop-out rate compared to other degrees and arts degrees in other colleges. The BA takes in approximately 1,500 students every year but many do not complete even their first year in UCD. Conor believes that this is due to the extremely low student/staff ratio. “This causes the problem of very little student/staff contact, which adds to the level of disconnect felt by students, especially for those who get in trouble academically.”
“The process of making friends is almost impossible due to the sheer number of students in each course, highlighted by the amount in weekly lectures. This is not the case in many other faculties whereby a student could partake in academic life only, i.e. lectures and tutorials, and still make close friends.”
“In comparison to other universities UCD still has the largest intake for its BA program, this creates a great many issues. To compare us with Trinity, they have no real general “arts” course, students have to be more specific in choosing there course making the sense of identity to a specific school/ course more prevalent. This sense of belonging to a small group, I think, helps in Trinity’s retention of students.”
Although much has been achieved this year for the BA programme, there is still more that can be done. “I would like to see next year’s representatives try and ensure the implementation of a transition program into the BA for incoming students” says Conor Rock. “Push the individual schools to reach out more to students, which a lot of them have started doing, even if it’s just a student/academic tea/coffee day at the start of the year. Improve Tutorials, through pushing for a teaching program to be put in place for all tutors – who would benefit the students and the tutors. Try and get the introduction of some form of internship program, which would give BA students a route to future employment. I think both Lexi and Conor are fully aware of these issues and completely capable of getting them done. They have good ideas themselves of what needs to be done and I think that they will have a good year ahead of them.”