By Pádraic Toomey
President, NUI Galway Students’ Union
Why was it an issue?
During the first week of the current Students’ Union term in July, the issue of repeat fees emerged much like every issue, it started by raising it with university management.
Before our term, it had been sought several times with the indication that the fees wouldn’t be charged. We believed that NUI Galway would be like nearly every other institution in the country and waive repeat fees. This wasn’t the case and they planned on charging them.
Repeat fees were unfairly charged to the unlucky few who did find themselves doing repeat exams. Many of these unfortunate students found themselves for the first time having to deal with learning online, studying without a desk or reliable Wi-Fi, or even so much as a quiet room. Students were literally completing exams while on their bed. To be expected to do the same as any other year was cruel.
What was done?
By the 2nd week of July, #RipOffNUIG was launched. Using a stereotypical greedy monopoly man as the image for the campaign. It had started, appealing to the public to help sway university management to show compassion when it came to repeats. Questioning how it was fair that most had waived the fee and those in NUIG still had to pay. What made it worse was the fact that the University were charging the single highest repeat exam in the country. Nowhere else would charge €295 for one repeat exam, pandemic or not. The fee was too high to begin with and now it was being charged, despite the fact that the resits wouldn’t incorporate the cost of an exam hall, invigilators or materials.
What was the outcome?
After being raised in the Dáil on multiple occasions, the government line of “Autonomy” was peddled. What this means is that they have no power when it comes to third level institutions. Is this right? That’s an article in itself.
So, the highest place the Students’ Union can raise an issue is with the governing body of an institution, also known as Údurás na hOllscoile. The Students’ Union had 2 seats on this body out of the 40. We raised the issue with the members, who did not favour a universal refund, but rather a refund granted to students who were the most disadvantaged.
Was that a good outcome?
Yes, it’s good that vulnerable people on the special rate of SUSI and students who get financial aid will be able to get the refund but it completely misses the point. Every student experienced the pandemic. Many students were repeating, not because they hadn’t studied, but because the conditions made it next to impossible for many. If you have no desk, no Wi-Fi, no access to campus or quiet space then how could they expect to pass easily? These students were forgotten.
How are things now?
The fight has started to begin again. With both Trinity & UCC coming out to offer free repeats and resits to all students. Meaning if you passed or failed you can do the exam again to do better. How can our students be expected to compete in the workforce when they graduate? The grades difference will not make it easy. It’s not too late to change, I just hope NUI Galway realise they can do the right thing and be compassionate.