Figures for Irish universities’ expenditure on exams have indicated that UCD spent €1.3 million on exams for the 2019/2020 academic year, according to figures revealed by The College Tribune in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. UCD’s spending on exams per student represented the largest in the country according to these figures. Trinity College Dublin (TCD) spent the second most per student on hosting exams, forking out €505,850 in semester one of 2019/2020. Dublin City University (DCU) and NUI Galway (NUIG) were third and fourth highest respectively, whilst University College Cork (UCC) was found to be the most cost-efficient. Speaking to the College Tribune in light of the findings, Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Kevin McStravock said that “it’s important to reflect on whether placing this [cost] is the most effective use of institutional resources”.
Our findings are broken down into three brackets, namely, venue hire costs, staff costs and materials costs. Other variables (such as insurance and correction costs) may come into play, though were not available or not included in the FOI responses. Figures for venue hire imply the cost of hiring the location in which exams are hosted. For example, UCD use the RDS as their prime location, whereas DCU typically use the Helix and their own sport halls. Staff costs account for invigilators, bag-drop staff, helpers, cloak-room attendants, on-site nurses and other various roles which are remunerated by the universities. The last figure to be taken into consideration in our findings is materials costs. These include the exam booklets and supplies, calculators, set-up costs and tidy-costs. The overall figures may fluctuate slightly due to the processing of invoices or other miscellaneous hidden costs.
The biggest spenders on exams, per student, were UCD, coming in at €22.33 for each exam. UCD did not reveal the specifics of each attributable cost for reasons of commercial sensitivity. This figure assumes that each student sits exams, however UCD have told the Tribune that not all registered students sit exams. UCD’s figures are not inclusive of “UCD staff costs associated with the organisation and management of the exam logistics, or academic costs associated with the preparation and correction of exams”, though the other universities did not specify if this was factored into their figures either. An estimated 150,000 exams are sat by students each year in UCD.
The second biggest spenders were nearby TCD, splashing out €14.81 per student. This takes into account the venue hire (which includes the RDS as one venue) and the costs of invigilators and helpers for the duration of the exams. Trinity pointed out that at the time of answering that some invoices are currently being confirmed, as such, these figures may fluctuate. The figure is likely marginally higher than aforementioned for this reason.
Conversely, University College Cork (UCC) have reported figures which place them as being the most frugal spenders on student exams, tallying a total of €7.93 per exam. Though their material costs far outweighed those of Trinity, UCC saved 90% and 51% of venue hire and staff costs respectively in comparison to their Dublin-based counterpart TCD. Naturally, venue hire in Cork is less exorbitant than in Dublin, which was a key factor in their total expenditure.
Cork IT (CIT) seem to be running exams as equally efficiently as UCC are, spending roughly €8.93 per exam. From the figures, this is in large part due to the extremely low venue-hire costs, coming in at only €2,392 per semester. Similarly to their neighbours in UCC, CIT benefits from the lower cost of living in Cork.
UCD students, and indeed other third-level students, are now heading into their exam seasons. Though the costs associated with running exams will certainly differ this semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic pushing exams online for a majority of students, these figures are an indicator of what is spent on exams in normal scenarios.
Speaking to the Tribune, USI Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Kevin McStravock, stated: “Given the costs that have been uncovered through the FOI, it’s important to reflect on whether placing this is the most effective use of institutional resources. Again, we would encourage institutions to engage in conversations with their student representatives when planning future learning and teaching approaches.”
McStravock also added: “The recent COVID-19 pandemic has forced institutions to re-think how they approach assessment. Now as institutions plan for the future, it’s important that they use the experiences of students during this period to shape their methods of assessment going forward and employ principles of Universal Design for Learning in developing assessments that fit the needs of all learners”.
The figures above do not capture every cost affiliated with the organising, running and correcting of end-of-term exams. Certain figures were excluded from information requests due to commercial reasons. The table reflects a fair representation of what each college spends on exams per student per term. Note that annual figures may be higher or lower if there are more or less exams in a particular semester than the figures we were provided with. Also note that these figures represent the price per student attending university, which may not be the same as the number of students which sat exams.
Alex Lohier – Deputy Editor