As another academic season draws to a close, Kate Rothwell reflects on the past year at UCD
No year at UCD could be described as dull, but 2010/2011 seems to have been particularly eventful. It began and will end during the depths of a national economic crisis, and the recessionary backdrop has played a part in many of the memorable goings-on of the past eight months.
Students were faced with now familiar financial challenges such as delayed grant payments and the threat of full third-level fees. Protests against the latter highlighted the potential danger of remonstration en masse as some students rioted and clashed with gardaí. The 2011 Budget may not have imposed the feared fees, but it is doubtful that this was a direct result of student protests.
The increase of the third-level registration fee to €2,000 was substantial, and nursing students received a further blow to their bank balance when the government announced that final-year students would no longer receive payment for their work placement. Protests were answered with the promise of a review of the situation, but as with the issue of fees the change in government has left students unsure as to what approach those in power may now take.
Revelations of excess spending by university authorities added salt to students’ wounds as they discovered that there had been a €2 million increase in The Irish Universities Association’s expenditure, €1.6 million of ‘unlawful’ allowances had been paid to UCD senior members of staff and five UCD staff members were listed among the ten highest paid educators in the country university authorities. The reinvesting of unauthorised bonuses in student services came too late; much faith in academic high powers had already been lost.
Students were not the only ones on campus who were voiced their discontent. Many staff opposed the terms of the Croke Park Agreement, which they quite rightly feared could limit their academic freedom. The agreement is a cost-cutting measure but its implementation may come at the all-too-high price of an end to unrestricted research.
Change was afoot countrywide as a general election turned the tables of Irish politics. A heightened interest in national politics among students added to a high turnout at the polls, but this enthusiasm did not stretch as far as student politics, with little over 5,000 UCD students turning out to vote in Students’ Union elections.
Candidate interest was above par with fifteen students contesting the race in comparison to last year’s eight. With graduate job prospects still unnervingly uncertain, it is no surprise that the positions are attracting more candidates, but this diversity would be of greater benefit if more students viewed the elections as worth voting in.
The future faces of the SU will no doubt be examining the manner in which the incumbent officers handled the year’s challenges. A good starting point would be to scale down the Class Rep training that this year cost a much condemned €11,000.
Further criticism came the Union’s way in December, as Education Officer James Williamson, supported the college’s decision to cancel a number of exams due to extreme weather conditions. This resulted in an angry backlash from hundreds of students, but it is difficult to imagine that there was any other option available. Societies also faced snow-induced difficulties, with a number of end-of-semester events being cancelled or postponed.
Yet these difficulties were minor in comparison to the current furore surrounding the cancellation of this year’s UCD Ball. Whether the ball can be rescheduled is as of yet not confirmed but either way a certain amount of the damage done to the reputation of this year’s Ents crew cannot be undone.
Looking back on the past two semesters at UCD naturally leads to a consideration of what the next few years hold in store. A stroll through the campus indicates a bright future, with construction of the new Sutherland School of Law underway, the development of the Science Centre visibly progressing and the new Student Centre due to open in January 2011.
University facilities look increasingly impressive but with funding still a serious issue we must hope that both state-of-the art and long-established buildings will be supplied with essential resources. Modern complexes are important for the development of the university and will help to attract prospective students, but UCD needs to ensure that its current students are prioritised. PhD funding and a well-stocked library that is open all week may not be as exciting a boast as a cinema and a 50-metre swimming pool, but basic academic support is vital for UCD’s future.
The future for UCD graduates is still difficult to predict. The national unemployment rate remains high but graduates do have a distinct advantage. The unemployment rate among people with a third-level honours degree at the end of 2010 was 7 per cent, i.e. half the national unemployment rate of 14 per cent at the time.
There are still plenty of opportunities for graduates at home and abroad; it may take longer to achieve a career goal or amass the money required to undertake a Masters, but it can be done. Graduate employment statistics and job market analysis can be interpreted in either a negative or positive light, yet overall it seems that the situation is much the same as twelve months ago.
Patience and perseverance are the virtues that will be essential for those looking to either enter the job market or further their studies. Graduates will have to work harder than ever to achieve what they want, but once they obtain it, they can take satisfaction in the knowledge that they have proved themselves in exceptional circumstances.