By Jane Byrne
The COVID-19 vaccine has allowed society to resume in many ways. One of these ways is the return to college for many students.
Major colleges such as TU Dublin, University of Limerick, and UCD have welcomed in person teaching after an academic year of remote, online learning. Trinity College Dublin however, have fallen short with their announcement that the majority of classes will operate online for the first semester.
Students4change, describes themselves as an independent alliance of Marxist and Anarchist students with a focus on third-level politics. Although they are mainly Trinity students, their organisation and opinions attract students from colleges all around Dublin.
Their latest agenda is to get Trinity college undergraduates and postgraduates back in colleges for in person teaching. Other agendas they have supported include the housing crisis, student accommodation, Irish neutrality, SU reform, and other matters of student politics.
Students4Change alongside Trinity Graduate Student Union (GSU), held a protest on the 16th of October with the motto #ReturnorRefund. The protest which started at Trinity College Dublin’s front square and finished outside the Dáil, fought for a return to campus, full access to missed student services during the pandemic, and an answer to expensive student accommodation.
This protest comes after many students expressed anger and frustration towards Trinity’s handling of the pandemic. The GSU, ‘Postgraduate Experience Survey’ of last year in which, 1246 students took part, showed that 78% support refunds.
Furthermore, Trinity student Alex Reid conducted an independent survey of 866 people and found that 83% were dissatisfied with the college’s reopening and 42% argued it affected them financially. In regards to how satisfied participants felt with the amount of in-person teaching this semester, 89% argued that they were dissatisfied. 92% of participants voted for more in-person teaching.
Speaking to the chairperson of Students4Change, László Molnárfi, he summarises students’ frustration. “Trinity has used safety as an excuse, but the reality is that these are not safety measures, especially since other universities are back on campus, and since our college is letting tourists in, with tourist lines longer than student lines at the entrances.”
Molnárfi argues for the urgency of getting students back on campus.
“Trinity College Dublin’s constant disregard for our needs continues to decimate our community, and we aim to fight against this. Our mental health and the impact of an uncertain and compromised educational experience again this year sees many of our community struggle. One of our demands is partial refund. We stand together as students and we show our support for anyone who is feeling forgotten and anxious in these times.”
Other students echo similar comments. Final year student Martha Browne paid for accommodation for semester one in Dublin with the hope she would have some classes in person.
“I’m from Donegal and if I had known I was going to be fully online for semester one, I would have stayed at home and saved money. Dublin rent is crazy and it’s hard not to feel like I’ve wasted money being here when I don’t have to be. My hope is that the college listens and allows us to resume in person classes,” she said.
While writing this article, an update from the college Secretary & Interim Chief Operating Officer was announced. The update read, “we are removing the rules around social distancing in indoor spaces from this Friday and learning spaces will operate at full capacity for the second half of semester 1 – i.e. after Reading Week.”
Speaking to Martha Browne again, she said “this is the best news I could hope for although I still came to Dublin two months earlier than I had to.”
The issues of access to missed student services, expensive student accommodation, and a refund for those who came to campus earlier than needed are still ongoing.