University College Dublin, its agents and the people who organise student activities seem to be a bit confused. Across campus, decisions are being made that affect students without any significant student input. Even more importantly, there are several situations where no decisions are being made at all and the net result seems to hit the lowest common denominator hardest, the students.
Currently, there is confusion surrounding the future use of the facilities located at Roebuck when the School of Law move premises to the Sutherland building. Funds are being allocated towards refurbishing and building all around campus, yet the tennis club is left without premises. This tells a story about the priorities of this institution.
There has been a sense for many years that the UCD Students’ Union is not best-serving its electing body, and from the outside that may well have appeared true back when internal decisions and their effects were not as visible. However, the local push to help and cater to the student body displayed by the Union is recent months is fairly remarkable.
With only a few weeks of the semester having passed, they have pushed for and appear to have achieved a more gender-equal student representation on campus. While no sabbatical officer this year is female, more than 50 per cent of candidates for Union Class Representative (UCR) positions are.
The same is true of the Union Convenors, the part-time officers of which there is one for every faculty on campus, alongside the Irish Language Officer. The Union paid more than simple lip service to their involvement with the Women for Election group and the effort has paid off.
The recent accommodation crisis also spurred the Union into action as the Welfare and Equality Officer got the Convenors in over the summer to assist students struggling to find affordable accommodation in the lead in to the first of the semester. Students are also being helped by the Kylemore Food scheme, where meals are being offered on a daily basis in conjunction with the Union to those most in need.
The Union is supposed to be the students’ voice on campus, and the results would seem to indicate that they are living up to this mandate. Which is brilliant to see, since the University itself may be seen to be falling down in places.
The commitment to students doesn’t appear to be ending on campus either. With the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) hastily informing the Union of their plans to march against the increase to the cuts to the grant this week, the Union Executive made the decision to remain local and committed to this week’s elections and referendums.
While rumblings of exclusion from a recent March for Marriage are still fresh, the Union did not feel a need to attempt to pander to USI by mobilising students on short notice, particularly where they were needed elsewhere.
UCDSU President Mícheál Gallagher saw the value in remaining close to home and engaging with students here in the hopes of doubling voter turnout to receive a clear student perspective on who they want representing them on Union Council and how they wish to be represented both locally, as regards the introduction of smoke-free campus, and nationally, as regards the Union stance on abortion.
At the moment, being a student is proving very difficult. With cuts to the grant, which on average now stands at €84 per week, coupled with issues with the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) system of provision, many are struggling.
There is a great sense that we are not being listened to on either a national or local stage. However, with the proven strength of the Union heading in to only the fourth week of the semester, students can have confidence that, at the very least, someone is working and fighting to make things that bit easier.