By Neasa Gorrell
This article was written prior to the announcement that study spaces on campus would reopen.
There seems to have been a running theme during this pandemic among all of the stories we hear reported about NUI Galway. For me, it is that many of the choices they have made appear to be anti-student. As in, NUI Galway purposely continues to make decisions that have not taken into consideration the best interest of the students.
These may be decisions about financial issues, which have unfairly burdened students and their families, or the matter of showing compassion for exam procedures or assessment – which they have been disinclined to do. So far, the choices of this educational institution have not been for us, the students. They have been for the benefit and the prioritization of the institution.
From encouraging students to find accommodation for this academic year, which saw hundreds of students sign leases and accommodation deposits over to landlords to no avail of any on-campus classes by the end of the autumnal season, enforcing exam repeat fees which are unjustified during the best of years, to now – keeping the study space closed.
As is, NUI Galway students are the only third-level university students on the island of Ireland who have no access to any on-campus facilities, which would aid their academic learning.
Yet, we’re still expected to pay full fees? Despite being so inadequately assisted in our learning? Despite having no access to supports? Despite already paying for the accommodation fees, electricity bilsl, Wi-Fi, and technology just to have access to online study materials?
In light of this, the Students’ Union at NUI Galway has been vocalising the issue on students’ behalf. It seems again and again that the diligent and hardworking Students’ Union at NUI Galway is continually fighting for the student body during this academic year.
This time around, they have been campaigning on their social media pages for the study space at NUI Galway to be reopened, and rightly so. NUI Galway students deserve access to adequate study space, reading materials and internet connection. It would be wrong to assume that all students have equal and fair access to a positive study environment or materials. Those who do not have these supports should not be left to make do with what they have – that is not how education in Ireland should function, especially with the exuberant fees paid.
With that said, we spoke to representatives from the Students’ Union here at NUI Galway to understand why the issue of the closed study space is highly concerning and how the implications of this closure are affecting the academic capabilities and welfare of NUI Galway Students.
On this, President of the NUI Galway Students’ Union Pádraic Toomey said,
“The playing field for adequate study space has never been as unequal. Students who cannot afford luxury student accommodation will have to do exams or study at their bedside, with spotty mobile data for Wi-Fi connection in many cases, and are still only given one chance to sit their exams, unlike other universities who have compassionate examination provisions in place in light of the pandemic.”
To this, Pádraic added,
“It is very disappointing that we are the only university with no study space open to students. It further makes students believe in the ‘#RipOffNUIG movement’, and as we have seen over the past number of weeks, many Leaving Certificate students have been thinking of studying elsewhere before picking NUI Galway.”
With regards to student well-being, Vice-President for Welfare and Equality, Róisín Nic Lochlainn, had this to say,
“For NUI Galway to be a university which claims to focus on student wellbeing, it doesn’t seem as though NUI Galway has taken into account all of the factors that weigh on a young person’s wellbeing. These include academic success, secure accommodation and a safe study environment. In this case, it appears NUI Galway has failed to acknowledge that not all students have safe conditions or equal access to study at home.”
To further this, Róisín added,
“Any student could be having to share small-enclosed spaces with other people at home or could be sharing an unstable Wi-Fi connection or device, all of which would cause disruptions to their learning environment. I am growing increasingly concerned for the well-being of NUI Galway students each day that study spaces remain off-limits.”
Evidently, there is a call for concern when it comes to this issue. It is essential to hear from the students who chose to remain renting in Galway so as to have access to the study space, as they are the people who are being disadvantaged and disregarded.
On this, we spoke with several final year students who chose to remain renting in Galway despite everything in the city being closed, solely because with the university library being open, it meant they had access to supports and a safe study environment where they could study.
One student told us of the struggles she has faced throughout this year as a final-year student, and with the closure of the library, how everything is more difficult,
“This year has been very difficult for myself, like many other students. Whether it’s been extortionate rent costs or the challenge of online college, I’ve never faced so many obstacles at university level. Without study space on campus, all of my college work is now done from my bedroom. I find it so hard to attend lectures, study, work, and sleep all in the same room. This is especially difficult as I chose to rent in Galway so that I had the option of study space on campus, and that has since been taken away.”
One student told us how his academic capabilities had deteriorated due to lack of study space,
“A lack of designated study space has had a massive impact on my performance in college work this year. The library on campus provided a quiet study space for students in final year like myself to complete assignments in a positive work environment with little to no distractions. Being in my rented accommodation does not offer the same type of environment to which I could perform at the highest potential to achieve high marks on assignments.”
Another student added,
“I find it very difficult to be able to sit down at my desk in my room for more than an hour to get any quality work done. In a library or designated study space with other students working provides an added motivation for students to focus and work for longer. Going to the library to study was the only bit of normality left in my schedule. Now my world is encapsulated to the walls of my bedroom where I sit endlessly for hours trying to focus before returning only hours later to sleep.”
Another final-year student added,
“I believe that study space on campus is essential, not only for those who don’t have sufficient internet connection to access lectures or do not have a secure space in their home to study but also for those of us in final year trying to complete extensive research projects or dissertations from home.”
Overall, it is quite clear that the students who stayed in Galway during this pandemic to have access to adequate study space have been unduly suffering as a consequence of the library closure, academically, as well as carrying the financial burden.
As NUI Galway is currently the only university in all of Ireland to have closed its doors entirely to its students, after a long list of inconsiderate choices on their behalf, now would be an excellent time to show some level of compassion and restore access to adequate and safe study space. It is unfair that any student’s academic capabilities should suffer due to a choice maybe by their university.
NUI Galway, do better.