Credit where Credits due

 
 

The introduction of an extra-curricular credits scheme would be a mistake, writes Paul Fennessy

The proposed plans to pilot and subsequently implement a programme whereby students acquire academic credits for their extra-curricular activities is both unnecessarily complex and antagonistic to the underlying spirit of UCD’s societies and clubs.

This paper reported in its last edition of how “students would have to apply for extra-curricular accreditation in advance of the semester”, adding that the plan would seek to “mirror the offering in Dublin City University […] where students can currently gain academic credits for extra-curricular activity.”

There are two immediately discernible flaws within the scheme. Firstly, the implication that the system would potentially operate on a first-come-first-served basis could result in severe inequities, given the selective basis of the credits’ distribution.

It seems grossly unfair that a person with peripheral involvement in a society who applies early would be rewarded, notwithstanding the harder-working, more involved colleagues of the candidate who – for whatever reason – neglected to be considered for extra-curricular accreditation.

Secondly, the proposition to emulate the aforementioned Dublin City University format is highly contentious. Granted, DCU’s unique system has obviously been relatively successful, owing to the fact that it has persevered since its inception in February 2004.

According to CampusEngage.ie, DCU’s ‘Uaneen module’ – akin to the intentions of the prospective UCD project – provides students with the opportunity to gain credits in “a range of non-academic activities” encompassing “the sporting, political and creative to the community and social”.

A prevailing concern is how it might be feasible to judge performances in areas as notoriously subjective as politics and sport. In the latter field, one could imagine a farcical, Fantasy Football-style situation where a student drops points for being booked, or gains points for keeping a clean sheet.

In this respect, will each individual sporting candidate’s portfolio (a pre-requisite amid the conclusion of the module) mainly consist of a series of statistics relating to their on-field performance? Assuming this slightly ludicrous scenario is fully realised, will players whose clubs are relegated, or who are consistently left out of the first team, fail to pass the module?

Additionally, this highly unconventional method seems unduly prejudicial against students who participate in volunteer work – or are involved in sports clubs – outside of UCD. Moreover, it does not allow for those students who regularly relinquish precious time washing dishes at home, or babysitting their younger brothers and sisters.

The crux of the matter is that the new system would accentuate the bourgeoning unwillingness in our culture to expend energy, unless the benefits for doing so are clear and immediate – and it subsequently begs the question: where do you draw the line if you start awarding academic credits for patently non-academic activities?

There are undoubtedly some virtues in adopting the DCU format. The greater numbers which an introduction of the proposal will surely prompt, should enable the clubs and societies’ efficiency levels to prosper. In addition, they will not endure as great a struggle to recruit members – a factor which has proved problematic for many of them in the past.

Most importantly though, the majority of these clubs and societies will receive greater funding from the membership fees which are usually mandatory, thus lessening the onus on UCD to alleviate their financial woes.

Keeping in mind the scheme’s virtues and regardless of its seeming impracticality, the possibility of a seamless introduction of an extra-curricular accreditation system that functions adequately can still legitimately be supported, despite the overt ambition of its aims. What cannot be vouched for is the overall impact it will have on the societies and clubs’ inherent ethos.

Allow me to digress momentarily by way of an analogy in the form of the Film Studies courses in UCD. For three years, I was fortunate enough to take an elective in the subject on account of my love of film. Sadly though, each year – without exception – I came across students with a blatant lack of interest in film, who took the course because they simply thought it was an easy route to passing a subject. Simultaneously, this meant that many students with a pure love of cinema (whom I also encountered) were unable to take the course, as it was consistently full up.

Societies and clubs are an intrinsic part of life in UCD. I emphasise ‘life’ because it is also, in my opinion, what these societies and clubs ultimately constitute. And life, needless to say, is about so much more than improving your GPA. Societies and clubs, therefore, invariably serve as respite from academic pressure. Amalgamating these two infinitely different entities would seriously debilitate the level of enjoyment that generally represents the primary purpose of their respective practices.

Furthermore, activation of these new initiatives would – as with the previous example of Film Studies – ensure that societies and clubs are infiltrated by students concerned primarily with the sole and vacuous aim of attaining an easy pass grade, thus reducing the opportunities for students with a genuine passion for the society or club in question.

Ultimately, the onset of these cynical, Machiavellian students – in conjunction with the extra-curricular credits scheme – would cause greater harm than good to the various clubs and societies, as these students would inevitably view such an exercise as “a piece of piss” in their parlance.

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