Last month, over 1,100 University College Dublin (UCD) students signed a petition calling for a partial refund of their fees for the 2019/2020 academic term. Two-thirds of the petitioners are postgraduate students, and just over half are doing a one-year masters degree. UCD currently refuses to grant refunds to any students.
While undergraduate students would have completed their coursework in May, those pursuing a masters degree are facing another remote trimester – for which they must pay in full.
We spoke to one student who is undertaking a MSc in Marketing in the Smurfit Business School, who was one of over 150 students to write individually to UCD management asking for fee re-compensation. She received a response stating that the costs involved in changing the delivery of lectures online and maintaining the standard of qualifications meant that fee reductions were not possible.
“My summer term was originally meant to be a group assignment and now it’s individual”, she told us, “I know there are other courses who are in the same situation. This means the workload has gone up as we are having to do the same tasks on our own.”
A key selling point of Smurfit’s MSc in marketing is a 20-credit project briefed by a large company in the summer trimester. The module outline on the Smurfit website states that 240 hours will be spent on practical learning, but this will now be completely online given the current pandemic.
The student we spoke to explained that instead of every student getting a chance to present to the company at the end of the trimester, they will now present individually to the module coordinator. Only those students who receive the top results will get to present to the company this year. “This means that some students will be left out of potential job opportunities.”
The closure of both the Smurfit campus and the Belfield campus has caused added detriment to masters students. “We are not getting access to any of the facilities we have signed up for,” the student told us. “We can’t use the library or study rooms, and we are missing out on the whole face-to-face lecture experience which I personally find to be more effective than online learning.”
The Smurfit MSc in Marketing is one of the most expensive in the country, at €14,460 for one year for EU students. If you are a non-EU student, the course will set you back €19,900. The most expensive course in Smurfit is the Masters of Business Administration at a €34,500 for 12 months, which has also moved completely online.
It is not just students in the Smurfit School who are suffering from the abrupt and continuing changes. In the School of Politics and International Relations, graduate classes were moved online to facilitate learning during lockdown and the internship program was cancelled meaning that all students are now required to write a thesis instead.
Professors were given the freedom to decide the means by which they would give their lessons online and most opted to give hour-long seminars on Zoom. Alternative approaches included asking students to give audio feedback on the required readings on a weekly basis which were uploaded onto Brightspace.
Opinions of the move online and the quality of the education are varied amongst students. Some students were very satisfied with the changes. Cloda, an International Relations student remarked: “My lecturers overall were really helpful and understanding of the situation. Also, because I was commuting from Wexford, doing the course online gave me a lot more time for my assignments and I wasn’t exhausted 80% of the time.”
Some students were less satisfied in regard to the quality of the education received: “I left a job in India to take a student loan and another personal loan to afford my education here. The online instructions did not serve half the purpose of taking up this course”, said Sneha, who also noted that her poor internet connection further hindered her ability to take part in Zoom classes.
Eva, an Italian Human Rights MA student, was satisfied with the quality of the classes and the lecturers but not satisfied in regard to fees. “I don’t think €2,500 was fair to pay for the second trimester…we didn’t have the opportunity to go to the library, the writing centre or the gym.”
Lecturers in the school have generally been supportive during this time and some lecturers choose to extend deadlines on final papers. The cancellation of the internship program was not mentioned by any students interviewed, however, it can be assumed that this came as a disappointment to many students who had secured placements.
Although students in the school have been accepting of the situation, some are upset at the lack of adequate consideration by UCD, such as refunding fees or providing more resources during this time. Many feel they should have been given more class time, since two-hour lectures were moved to one-hour Zoom classes. Sneha remarked: “The semester ended without any great satisfaction from the course. We students have lost our masters experience.”
Conor Anderson, the incoming President of the Students’ Union, has informed students that that the University’s position is that “UCD does not market a specific “experience;” it markets a degree, which you will be getting.”
The Registrar and University Relations were contacted for a comment to corroborate what Anderson said but The College Tribune has not yet received a response.
Meadhbh Park – Reporter
Blathnaid Corless – Assistant News Editor