Monday, 29 September 2008

NEWS BRIEF - Boy Knocked Down Outside Union

On the night of Thursday 25th September, a young male was knocked down at the traffic lights outside the Union building. Although it was first thought to be serious, he fortunately escaped with only a broken leg. A busy night by all accounts, due to the Freshers' party taking place in Mandela Hall, a source told The Gown that at this stage it can only be presumed that the injured boy is a QUB student. Laura Hawthorne, VP for Community, told us that she received a phone call about the incident at 1.40am. She remarked that the police were fantastic in the whole furore, and it was passed off without too much trouble.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Should QUB revise their exam feedback?- by Catherine Wylie

Having heard a number of students complain about the lack of exam feedback they received from QUB, The Gown thought it was time to investigate what the university’s policy on the matter is. As you are all aware, when you log in to view your results on QOL you are given one final mark for each module. However, that mark more than likely comprises at least two different pieces of coursework or examinations. An English or History student, for example, may have written two summative essays and completed a timed exam also. So how do you find out what mark you achieved in those essays, and how you could improve in order to get higher marks next time round? It seems to be the case that the majority of the student body are oblivious to the answer, and in some cases unaware that there is even a feedback procedure in existence.

Under the Data Protection Act 1988, universities are under no obligation to release exam scripts to students. However, if the examiner has written comments on a separate piece of paper, then a student should be given this if they request it. If the examiner has written his/her comments on the actual script, then these should be reproduced on a separate page and given to the student. It is important to remember here that examiners are not required to write comments about every piece of work they mark.

The Gown unearthed an online article written in 2006 for theoxfordstudent, the student newspaper at Oxford University, which expressed concerns about how the university handled marks and feedback. The reporters stated that they contacted all 18 members of the Russell group (QUB became a member in late 2006), a consortium of the UK’s leading universities, and could reveal from their investigation that all universities apart from Oxford offered examiners’ comments in some form or another. So as a relatively new addition to the Russell Group, are QUB failing its students and falling short of standards which are withheld by the other prestigious universities?

Professor Estelle Sheehan, feedback officer for the school of English, told The Gown, “Feedback may be obtained for a student if the student requests it within five working days after the publication of results. This deadline is advertised to students well in
advance of the examination period and is included in the student QOL information regarding examinations and submission procedures.” Does this suggest that students at QUB need to be more observant of information regarding issues like this? Or does the university need to be more blatant in their providing of it? Not according to Professor Joan Rahilly, who told The Gown that the information held by Professor Sheehan and Professor Ivan Herbison (exams officer) “are accessed by high numbers of our students.”
Kevin Kelly, VP for Education, conveyed a similarly positive outlook when he told The Gown that as of yet no students have approached him with queries on exam feedback. He also gave a glowing report on the school of Geography and claimed that as a geography student at QUB he never had any problems with receiving breakdowns of marks or examiners’ comments.
In order to paint a bigger picture, The Gown went in search of more information on exam feedback from National University of Ireland, Galway. We spoke to Professor Terrence McDonough from the school of Economics in order to hear what his views on the issue were. “Most students don’t seem to care unless they’ve failed,” he said. “However, if a student receives a mark which they believe is incorrect or a lot lower than they expected, then it would make sense to come and ask me about it,” he continued. Professor McDonough was of the opinion that providing feedback can only do so much, that it is in the hands of the students themselves to improve their mark next time round, but “it might be helpful in certain circumstances.” He concluded that, “people frequently know why they fail.”

Dr Daniel Kowlasky from the school of history at QUB echoed McDonough’s sentiments saying, “If a student achieved a poor mark, the reason is almost always a lack of preparation and dedication to the class and subject.” He went on to tell us what his own plan of action would be when a student approaches him about marks. “I think that if a student contacted a lecturer and asked for individual feedback on how to perform better in an exam, the instructor would willingly help out, and might even dig the exam in question out of the archive. I have done this on occasion, though I’ve never been allowed to actually give the exam back to the student. In general, after an exam is taken, there isn’t too much to convey to the student apart from the mark.” Similarly to the majority of teaching staff at QUB, Dr Kowalsky is of the opinion that the learning, teaching and feedback should happen in weekly meetings during term time. Reflecting on his own time at university, Dr Kowalsky told The Gown that when he was an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, he received all his marked exams, but later as an MA and PhD student at New Mexico and Wisconsin he was never permitted to see any of his exams, nor was he given any breakdown or detailed feedback. Looking back, he expresses no regret at being denied this information and states that even though he still has those exams from his undergraduate days, he would have no inclination to ever look at them again.

Carmel Beaney, secretary for the School of English, put forward her non-academic view that, “feedback on formative work is arguably more valuable than feedback on summative work, as it can be applied to summative work. Also, I don’t know how many Schools issue marks for formative work, but marks can distract from the feedback itself.”

Doors Closed to Students- by Catherine Wylie

JUST another sensationalist Gown headline, or is the above statement 100% fact? Can you imagine being denied access to the Union, the building that can only be described as a haven for so many at QUB? Strictly speaking, that is almost what happened from May right through to the day The Gown went to press.

The double doors on the left hand side of the Union facade have been out of order for four whole months, meaning that entering and exiting the building has had to be done through the other set of doors. This may sound very petty and trivial, but with a student population of over 24,000 there is a reason why two pairs of double doors were installed by the architects and not one. Therefore, The Gown went in search of some answers and spoke to premises manager Lorraine Meneilly in order to make sense of the whole debacle. Lorraine, who was adamant that she was no door expert, didn’t seem convinced that there was a problem. When asked why they had been out of order for so long, she merely stated that, “they continually got fixed and then manhandled again.” She seemed to be of the opinion that “it was something to do with shoes and feet, and that they had been overused, abused and kicked.” How a door to a union providing for over 24,000 can be “overused” is quite the mind boggler. Wasn’t it known at the time of installation what a popular spot the union is for QUB students? Evidently not, and so this door has sported an “Out of Order” sign for what can only be described as a disgracefully long amount of time. As the person responsible for remedying the problem, Lorraine admits that there has been an “unacceptable delay” but reassures us that she’s on the case and that there have been emails flying around since May.

The Gown spoke to an employee, who did not wish his name to be printed, from Felix O’Hare Co. & Ltd on Thursday 11th September. Having begun work at 9am on the seemingly impossibly task of fixing this most problematic door, he was confident that it should be back in working order by 5pm, and that included his lunch break. Laughing at our vented interest in what he was doing, he commented that it should have been done long ago, and that it was merely a job for one man that would take less than a day. When probed about whether or not he knew anything about when his firm was contacted about the matter in hand, he was unable to provide us with any details but stated that once his firm is contacted about a job, they endeavour to respond to it as soon as they can. So what effect has this had on the day to day running of the union, if any at all?

Granted, the Union is obviously not as busy in the summer as it is during term time, but it is still a very popular venue at the weekend for students and non-students alike. When asked about whether or not she thought the door being out of order had an ill effect on proceedings at weekends, Lorraine claimed that she would doubt very much that it had. Unconvinced that this was the case, The Gown made enquiries with the entertainments manager Rod Martin, who could tell us that throughout the summer approximately 400 people attended the bars in the Union on Friday nights. He also went on to reveal that Shine, which is an event organised outside of the Union, brought in approximately 800 and 900 people on its last two dates, and a whopping 1000 people attended it in July. That begs the question, how is the other, fully functional door holding up? Is it not being overused and baring the brunt? And how long will it be until it is out of order too? But similarly to Lorraine, we at The Gown are no door experts.
Here’s to a fully operational Union!

Sin City- by Raymona Crozier

Walking down Joy Street, a sense of irony passes you by as you walk alongside an incoming punter. Sneakily the car grinds to a halt and the lady in waiting approaches her potential client. Neither she nor he show any hesitation. Who exactly is in the wrong here, the woman selling her body or the man willing to pay for it? The taboo topic of prostitution is finally rearing its seedy head in the Belfast area.

Prostitution is one of the longest running trades in Northern Ireland and has been well hidden for many years until recently. What people may not know is that Northern Ireland falls out of both the British and the Republic’s legislation to prostitution and brothels. Our current legislation regarding kerb crawling and massage parlours has been valid for approximately one hundred and fifty years. Officially, paying for sex is not illegal. However, kerb crawling and procuring a prostitute for sex is an offence. Despite this fact, sources have suggested that this law is flouted most nights behind city hall.

This seemingly twisted law blurs the question of legality and limits, making prostitution and the sex industry extremely difficult to tackle, not only by the authorities, but by society in general.
In a similar way, brothels walk the line of questionable legality in the United Kingdom; Although there have been suggestions made that support the wish to legalise such houses, if they contain more than two girls and a maid. However, if more girls are employed or there is an actual brothel owner, it then becomes illegal.

It was only early this year that thousands of unaware citizens saw the extent of the sex industry in Northern Ireland as over forty brothels were closed down in the Belfast area. Yet, The Gown can reveal that there is huge suspicion regarding a larger than life ‘massage parlour’ in the main university area. Sightings of various men leaving at strange times of morning and night aroused suspicion in late December. Curiosities were raised further as male students claimed they were being offered ‘special services’ from this particular parlour.
Brothels or ‘massage parlours’ are harder to identify than the obvious tactics of street walkers, nonetheless they are just as dangerous and inhumane. Human trafficking and brothel work are closely entwined as brothels allow easy entrance of foreign nationals into a house for sex exploitation. A brothel owner can effortlessly organise and maintain the trafficking of women into their premises without suspicion from neighbours or authorities. This dimension of the sex industry proves more dangerous than kerb crawling as the ladies are hidden away from society and cannot be monitored by the police, unlike the streets where the law can be explicitly enforced.

However, it seems that the issue of safety has been almost ignored by the authorities in Northern Ireland. This is an outrageous disregard for the safety of these women and should be addressed, especially when the Ipswich murders in 2006 is taken into account, or the recent increase in the number of sexual assaults in both South Belfast and the city centre.
In response to these attacks, Anna Lo of the Alliance party has called for increased police patrols and warned women against walking alone at night. But what about the females who are employed to walk the streets at night in order to earn a living? Policing and safety procedures seem to fail these women; calling into question whether these women, who sell their bodies, are victims also?

On mainland Europe, the safety of such women is viewed with greater importance. In the Netherlands, prostitutes are treated as self employed persons, and brothels are legal but subject to licensing. The Dutch solution has seen a number of cities creating official ‘street walking zones’ which outlines special car parks for prostitutes. Cameras have been installed for both the safety of the prostitutes and their clients. In addition, social services are available for advice, medical information and condoms. These provisions have caused uproar from various factions of the global community, as they seem to heighten the debate of morality and fuel the dispute around the government’s lax attitude.

The SDLP’s, Pat McCarthy has always been outspoken on the topic of prostitution, and this came to the surface in 2006 when he called upon the government to extend the legislation covering kerb crawling into Northern Ireland. He believes that the Northern Irish laws on the subject need to be tightened and revamped in order to deal with present day circumstances. However, he disagrees with the European measures of legalised red light districts and branded them a “step too far” as they were exploiting women and permitting legalised prostitution.
The Gown decided to walk the streets that these women walk, entering into the life of a prostitute. When strolling around the linen quarter area two definite streetwalkers were identified. However, when approached, they backed away in fear and avoidance. The Gown then, theoretically scared away potential business and the prospect of earning between thirty and forty pounds per hour. While no prostitutes were available for comment, The Gown were able to talk with Kiera Mc Cormack, a counsellor who operates a helpline for females in the sex industry. With eight years experience in counselling, Kiera knows exactly what prostitutes and escorts are feeling and how to help. Kiera spoke freely of her support for the work of prostitutes, escorts and brothel workers, provided that they haven’t been forced against their will into this profession.
During the consultation of prostitution legislation in 2006 Kiera was one of the very few to voice her opinion in support of street workers, and as a result found tough opposition within the authorities and local politicians. When quizzed on what her solution to Northern Ireland’s prostitution problem should be, she said that the sex industry should be separated from laws and discussion on sexual assault and rape. She belives these connections only serve to criminalise the sex workers and their clients, heightening the stigma connected with prostitution. Kiera believes that prostitution is here to stay and society will “never get rid of it”.

Many believe that the government has to tackle the wider ring involved in the sex industry such as the pimps, brothel owners, and to a certain extent the men paying for sex. In effect targeting prostitutes is only a short term fix, and assistance should be given to prostitutes and brothel workers to obtain regular health checks and set up an organisation to support them, such as the Poppy Project. This project, set up in 2003, provides accommodation and support for women who have been trafficked into prostitution. It helps improve the safety and wellbeing of women from all over the UK.

The future of prostitution in Northern Ireland has a troubled path ahead and it will take co-operation on both sides, although a final view may never be reached on a topic so controversial. For some it’s a matter of morals, for others it’s a matter of money.