By Áine Kenny
NUI Galway’s Students’ Union Education Officer has had a whirlwind year. After taking up the position later in the year due to Louis Courtney’s resignation, Eibhlín’s main priority was ensuring continuity of care and making the student voice heard. Has she achieved this?
“One of the most rewarding things about this job is seeing students around campus and being able to say hello, and just interacting with them. It is fulfilling to know you are making a difference,” she says.
“Getting the opportunity to bring up student concerns at meetings with University management, and making the President of NUI Galway aware that there are issues is also rewarding.”
“Collaborating with staff has also been great. For our chair protest, we got over 20 chairs from the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). So I suppose student and staff collaboration has been the most fun.”
However, it hasn’t been all fun and games for the second year English, Sociology and Political Science student. “The most frustrating part has been not being able to give everyone what they want, I wish I had a magic wand I could wave to solve everything, but I don’t,” Eibhlín says candidly.
“Sometimes students face barriers they can’t overcome. SUSI is a big issue nationally, and it has to be looked at. I think more could be done to ease the students’ burden. More information could be provided by the college, with regards to things like repealing exam results.”
The Education Officer also highlights that changes can’t happen overnight. “Maybe this is an age thing, but change is slow and incremental. We need to build on the foundations of what we have done this year going forward. The groundwork has been laid; we need to keep the momentum going. This is especially true for things like a new library and more seating.”
The biggest issues that students are facing, according to Eibhlín, is anxiety. “It is linked to everything.”
Eibhlín also says she wants to see more spaces for learning on campus in order to improve student’s educational experience. “Collaborative spaces are needed for group projects. Often, students are kicked out of rooms for meetings. They have nowhere to go, and the room booking system is too centralised. A department-based approach could work better.”
Eibhlín’s main campaign promises were to improve wifi and the registration process, as well as introduce an anonymous feedback system for students in the Health Sciences, and look at class rep engagement.
“Wifi improvement won’t happen overnight… same for registration. The issue with registration is that the computer system needs to be updated. There are issues with transferring files and GDPR. It is rumoured it will take something like three years to fix the system.”
“Registration issues happen every year. Sometimes students register for semester two modules, only to find out it clashes with core modules in other subjects. There’s no joined-up thinking between departments.”
“Basically our systems cannot cope with the increased amount of students. What is frustrating is that registration used to be done manually by people, yet our fees have gone up. I know the volume of students has increased, but still, we are paying more for an automated registration system which doesn’t work.”
As for class rep engagement, Eibhlín says she has her concerns but that better forms of communication will be in place soon.
“Last year’s Education Officer (Andrew Forde) started the process of getting class reps onto the Your Space system, so they can send out texts, emails and updates to their class quickly and easily. This should be up and running by next year.”
“I suppose with regards to engagement, we need to get on the ground. If I had started this job back in June, maybe I would have had more time to focus on the class reps.”
“However, we definitely have a more diverse set of class reps with a wider reach. We have reps from Adult Learning and from part-time courses. It is great to see non-traditional students being represented. So it’s not all doom and gloom!”
Eibhlín also mentioned how so many of the University staff she has encountered really have the students’ best interests at heart. “There has been great support from key members of staff… even when you look at the library, we have the library staff and students working together. We were told there was loads of agitation around this issue, which can only be a good thing!” she laughs.