By Áine Kenny
Cameron Keighron holds a Masters in Regenerative Medicine (stem cell biology) and is the Students’ Union’s Postgraduate Taught Officer. He started studying in NUI Galway in 2012. Activism and advocacy have always been a huge element in Cameron’s life and this is something he hopes to bring to the role.
“I fell into the Students’ Union in my first few years of college through my friend group… I helped out with campaigns, I was a class rep.”
“I really enjoyed the positive influence I could have and how I can make life better for students who were experiencing the same problems I had,” Cameron says.
Cameron says he developed an interest in academic affairs over the last number of years. “I have interest in helping out students who have an issue with their course, with their course coordinator… this year working as the Postgraduate Taught Officer, I can see how much of a difference I could make by opening up a forum for students to talk about their problems, telling me what is going on, and advocate for them at a higher level.”
One of Cameron’s key points is to ease the transition between undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. “When we encourage students to go to postgraduate level, we need to put supports in place for that. I am running to build on the work I have done this year.”
The Postgraduate Taught Officer also points out that the University hasn’t changed in 40 years. “We have lecturers who will lecture in the same theatre, week in week out, every year and nothing changes… same slides and everything.”
“We are at this stagnant point with the academic side of the University, we are so stuck in our ways that we don’t necessarily look at how to diversify education. We are seeing this come through in some of the problems students are facing.”
Cameron says that as a Union, they have been “held to ransom” over the past number of years due to fees, course outlines and course coordinators, and that there a strict parameters set by the college over what an education actually entails.
“We need to give the ownership back to students. They are the ones who are paying for it, they should have a say in what goes on in their course.”
Exam reform is an area Cameron promises to tackle if he is elected. “There is absolutely no reason why the University can’t commit to a day in semester one and two where all exam results come out. We are adding to a student’s stress with regards to work, applying to Masters, or whether they will continue their studies.”
“We need to have exam timetables released well in advance. This is for the students who have to work, book flights home, commute or if they have caring responsibilities.”
Cameron says that releasing more information about exams would also help students, such as seat numbers, and the general exam process. “First years just get here and then suddenly they are told they need to get out to Galway Bay in Salthill. It is very daunting.”
He would also like to see a restructuring of the repeat fee for exams. “I want to see a fee per exam with a cap at €150. Also we need to highlight that if a student defers an exam, and if they then fail a subsequent exam, they do not pay the repeat fee. It is waived at that point.”
He also wants to see the abolition of two exams happening in one day, but Cameron is wary of having exams on a Saturday because some students have to work or care for others.
“It is not fair to expect students to seamlessly transition from one exam to another, they are exhausted… it is a bad thing in this University that we have students being fearful of having a bad exam timetable.”
“I am not sure how we will rectify it now, but more careful planning is needed around exams.”
Cameron also says there is a need for more continuous assessment across the board. “I don’t think we capture a student’s ability in one 100 percent exam. Not every student examines well.”
He also wants to ensure that when there are group projects in courses, the lecturers assign the groups randomly. “There is nothing worse than being left out and having to go up to your lecturer and being like ‘sorry, no one wanted me’. We want to make people feel part of this University.”
“We have international students coming to us, saying that they are lonely and no one will meet up with them, and it breaks my heart to think they are in that situation.”
Cameron also wants to ensure course quality is upheld. “There are so many new courses popping up across the University. And for the first year, they say it’s a ‘pilot year’, and they will fix all the teething problems as they go along.”
“Often the students in that year are the guinea pigs. If we are going to offer new courses we need to make sure all the problems have been worked out prior to a student ever stepping foot on campus.”
“A lot of this needs to be in written down policies. This empowers the Deans and Heads of Schools to actually implement the things we want them to.”
Cameron also mentioned there are issues around students going on placements. “We have no standardised approach. I think it is ridiculous to expect a student to work 32 hours a week on placement, and then try to support themselves [if they aren’t being paid].”
“We need to look at how to finance this. Do we need to lobby the University to put more funding in place for things like accommodation, food and travel costs? We also need to look at the timing of placement too… to ensure there is flexibility there.”
One area Cameron is very passionate about is making learning more accessible and interactive. “Role-plays and case studies are interactive and visual and can benefit all types of learners. The model of reading slides doesn’t work for everyone.”
This year, Cameron worked on an Inclusive Learning and Teaching Model in the College of Business, Public Policy and Law with two Deans and a woman from CELT. “We have been looking at seeing what best practice is, for students who have a minority identity. We are surveying students to find out how inclusive their learning experience was. Did they feel like they were empowered to speak up in class and complete their work? Did they feel like they belonged?”
“We are hoping to get this learning model embedded into college policy, this is something I am really passionate about, we are not capturing every student by sticking with traditional teaching methods,” Cameron says.
Fee reform is another issue Cameron wants to tackle. “We are pricing students out of education. It is an absolute injustice that students have to take a year out of education in order to fund it.”
“The SUSI system’s means testing may not be accurate. Things like rent increases, personal medical bills, and caring responsibilities factor in, and SUSI does not encompass that. SUSI is a difficult process to go though. I will create a SUSI how-to guide, for undergraduates and postgraduates.”
Cameron also wants to see more recognition for volunteering, and claims he will lobby for academic credits to be assigned for outstanding volunteer work with a society. “There is a great module in the College of Business where students go on placement, some of them volunteer in the Hub, and they get credits for this. So it is not something that hasn’t been done.”
The biggest educational issue facing students is lack of accessibility, according to Cameron. This can take the form of raised fees, restructured SUSI criteria, rent increases, and a lack of secure accommodation. “It is crazy to think we have students living in hostels, with no secure space to live and study, living with different people each week,” he says angrily.
Speaking on student engagement, Cameron says it has been an issue for a number of years, and the Union need to get outside Áras na Mac Leinn. “I want to see four buildings chosen, and for a few hours a week, the sabbatical officers will have ‘open office hours’ in these areas and this will be on a rolling basis. Walking into our offices can be daunting and we owe it to students to bring ourselves to them.”
Cameron also mentions that a social media campaign profiling the Union, detailing their courses and fun facts, could also work. “We need to make ourselves real to the student population. The last thing I want is to be that person who people can’t connect with.”
“Council… I think… needs to be reformed desperately. The lecture halls are not accessible or air-conditioned. Moving it somewhere like the Cube, the Bailey Allen, would make it a better experience. We have over 400 reps and we have never had them all in the room, and there’s a reason for that, there is something we are missing, somewhere we are going wrong.”
The Education Officer candidate says he would get tea, coffee, juice and snacks throughout the Council meetings to incentivise people to come and to ensure they get a chance to eat when they are tired and hungry.
“We need honest feedback at these councils. We don’t want to live in a liberal bubble with just all the people we know in the SU, we need a discourse that agrees or disagrees with what we are doing.”