Interviewed by Sorcha O’Connor.
Why are you running for election?
I’m running for election so that I can lobby for policies that will bring practical change for the students of NUI, Galway. I’m someone who’s been through the ups and downs of college – I know what it’s like to have your grant taken away, I know what it’s like to hold down a job to pay off student fees, and I know what it’s like to deal with an exam system that’s all over the place. These are all areas where sensible policies would have made my time in university easier, and since I know that there are students who face the same challenges I have, I’m running for Education Officer to give them a better chance of making the most of their time in college.
What key skills/personality traits should an Education Officer have?
I think, most importantly, an Education Officer needs to really know their stuff. When a student comes to the SU about their grant application or about their fees, they’re relying on the Education Officer to understand the issue, to know how everything works, and to be able to advise on the best course of action to take. That’s a big responsibility, and when you remember that these are mostly academic and financial issues that are being dealt with, it really highlights the importance of having an Education Officer who knows what they’re talking about. Now as I’ve said before, I have had plenty of experience of how this university works in relation to fees and exams and so on, so I think I’m in a good position to be an advocate for students there.
But I think there’s also a broader issue to keep in mind. The Education Officer, like everyone in the SU, needs to know how to best work with the university itself. Any candidate can come along and promise the world, but without knowing how to lobby the university, nothing gets done. For instance, in my manifesto I’m pledging to bring about significant reforms to our examination system. I know that can be done, because at the end of the day a fairer examination system for students means better academic results, and that’s good PR for the university. But without thinking about how I’d go about selling it to the university, examination reform would just be an empty promise. So I think being savvy about how you bring about change is a key skill for the Education Officer to have, and I think I have it.
What are they main Education issues affecting students in NUI Galway?
Well as I’ve been saying, the exam system is in dire need of reform. Exams are the most stressful and difficult period during the college year for students, and every single student that passes through this university will have to go through them, so it’s ridiculous that our exams system has the shortcomings that it has. In terms of academic issues, exam reform is a huge priority, which is why I’ve made a firm commitment to it in my manifesto.
On the financial side of things, fees and grants are obviously massively important too. Now, I’m committed to making sure fees don’t rise and grants aren’t cut, because ultimately those things hurt the most disadvantaged students hardest. But it’s not just about lobbying for the student body as a whole, it’s about making sure that each individual student who comes to me is best able to deal with the Fees Office, or SUSI, and knows theirs rights. It’s important that university is made accessible to students who struggle to afford it, and often those same students aren’t aware of the resources and workarounds that are there, so I think making all the information available and being a reliable source of information myself is an important role that I’d play as Education Officer.
Outline your main objectives if elected.
If you look at my manifesto, you’ll see that my main objective is simply to find ways of making the university work better for students. I don’t believe in promising eye-catching policies that can’t be made a reality. So when I say that I want lecturers to be mandated to use Blackboard, or that I want more subject modules to be given tutorials and better training for tutorial teachers, it’s because I believe that those things can be delivered and should be delivered. My primary objective, ultimately, is to be an Education Officer who doesn’t grandstand, but who finds useful policies he can put in place, and then makes it happen.
And then the other side of that is being accountable. My number one priority is to the individual student who comes to me looking for help and support with their academic or financial issues. Protest and being a part of the student movement is of course important, my objective is to be the best advocate for the students who need my help as I can be.
What are the key points of your manifesto?
In terms of exam reform, I want to see the timetabling system updated so students will no longer have three exams in a twenty-four hour period; I want to see the library and computer suites open for longer on weekends during exams; and I want to see the exam repeat fee brought back down to its old level since the increase a year ago was deeply unfair. I also think the appeals process is a shambles, since at the moment students have to wait until the summer before they can appeal the results they got for their Christmas exams. I think leaving students in the dark about their academic situation is ridiculous and needs to be reformed.
In terms of grants, students need to receive their grants quicker from SUSI and more information needs to be made available to students through the SU in terms of dealing with SUSI. I also think the postgrad grant should return in full. But a big thing I would like to see is increased participation directly by students of NUIG in protecting their interests. It’s of course the SU’s job to advocate as best it can, but I think sometimes the only way to get the university to stand up and take notice is for students themselves to take action through strikes and sit-ins. I want to coordinate and facilitate that, and help students advocate better on their own behalf.
Just to finish, I think not nearly enough is done to help students face challenges that aren’t related to their studies. I’d like to set up exam preparation and exam stress workshops, as well as workshops on skills needed after college like job interviews and presentation skills. This information is around, but it should all be in one place and coordinated through the SU, and I think that would be a very useful addition to the SU’s role.