As passing by compensation starts its second semester of a total phasing out process, Nicole Casey ask students whether UCD is starting a trend to improve learning on campus or creating a problem

Examination results are released and, shock of all shocks, you’ve managed a pretty decent result. Oh, except for that one E grade. However, thanks to passing by compensation, that’s nothing you really have to worry about.

Over the years, passing by compensation has no doubt saved many UCD students the €230 it costs to repeat a module.

Prior to September, UCD allowed compensation on modules where the student had failed with an E grade and had an overall grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 or above. A student’s performance across all attempted modules in a stage was reviewed by the Programme Examination Board to determine eligibility for compensation.

Where compensation was allowed, E grades were converted to PC (pass by compensation) and assigned a GPA value of 1.6. These modules did not need to be repeated or re-sat.

The exception to this rule was dissertation, thesis and research modules with a 15 credits value, which were never passable by compensation. However, over the next number of years, students who receive lower than a D grade in any module will have to repeat or resit, regardless of overall GPA.

The changes to compensation, which began in semester one of this academic year, saw compensation being phased out by module level rather than year group. Should the phasing out have been implemented based on year group, two students sitting the same module would have been assessed differently. Rather, it is the modules, based on level, which will be affected by the phasing out process.

At present, modules at level zero, one, four and five are no longer passable by compensation. From September 2014, level two modules will also be exempt from compensation, and September 2015 will see the completion of the phasing out process as level three modules will also be incorporated.

There is a mixed reaction among students about the changes to assessment. Many view the phasing out of compensation as a negative plan to put in place, and one that will have a detrimental effect on their learning and the outcome of their final degree.

Aisling O’Riordan, a second year Arts student, believes that eliminating compensation will make students less likely to take full advantage of the electives UCD offers to its students. “When I started college, I thought it was great that we could choose electives from any subject area. I took many different electives; some good, some not so good. Last year I took a veterinary science elective, but by the time I realised I was out of my depth it was too late to switch subjects.”

With an abolishment to compensation, O’Riordan is certain she will be less open to new electives in the future. “I failed the module, which was no surprise. I managed to pass by compensation though, saving me the time and cost of a repeat. Without compensation, I’ll definitely be sticking to easy modules that I know I can do well at. Unfortunately broadening my horizons will have to be put on hold.”

While some argue that compensation allows people who make little or no effort throughout the semester to progress to the next stage of their degree, some situations which utilise the ability to pass by compensation, such as that experienced by O’Riordan, are not the result of little effort during the academic year.

Another student who has benefitted from passing by compensation is final year Commerce student Patrick Jordan. “Commerce involves taking modules in many different business subjects, some of which are harder than others.

“For me, the accounting modules were always difficult. It’s just something I can’t get my head around. Last year I failed an accounting module, but my GPA allowed me to pass it by compensation.”

When compensation is completely abolished, the only option for students will be to repeat or resit the failed module. But as Jordan explains, that won’t always work. “If I had to take that accounting module again, I’ve no doubt I’d fail. I don’t think another semester of lectures would help me pass.”

If repeats and resits of exams are to be the only option for students, it is hoped that the cost of these will be reduced in the coming years. At present, UCD has the highest cost of repeating an exam across all Irish universities at €230 per resit. This is in stark comparison to Trinity College Dublin, where students who have failed an exam must undertake a supplemental examination, which is free of charge.

If students are to be expected to repeat or resit any module where higher than a D grade is not achieved, this amount will have to be dramatically reduced. Students are already suffering from hikes in fees and student contribution levies, and many will be unable to afford to pay for repeats if they stay at the same high price.

Compensation is a facet of many third level institutions, and UCD will be the first of Ireland’s seven universities to abolish it completely. The question that begs an answer, however, is whether UCD is about to start a trend that other universities will soon follow, or if the university is taking things a step too far. Come September 2015, will UCD be the only university without compensation, or just the first of many?