The recent Access Week is a demonstration of the changing face of education, writes Zelda Cunningham.
During the recent midterm break, when students were catching up some well-earned sleep, relaxation or various extremes of social engagement, Belfield was still a hub of activity. In the place of the regular student body, a younger generation took to the concourse of UCD as part of Access Week.
Access Week is an event run by the Students’ Union (SU) where primary school children from disadvantaged areas are invited to UCD in an aim to illustrate the benefi ts and advantages of third-level education. This programme was initially organised by former-SU President, James Carroll in 2005, who expressed the desire to show these children that education could be interesting and appealing. The enthusiastic response from teachers in these schools has ensured that Access Week has become an annual affair and will continue into the future.
SU Education Officer, Paul Lynam, who was working in conjunction with SU Welfare Offi cer Conor Fingleton on the event gave his ardent praise of the week, saying “it shows that university is a good place to go and that anyone can go to university. It shows the diversity of university. They may absolutely hate school, but university is completely different, how much work you do is up to you.”
The school children are given a tour of Belfield with the aim conveying the diversity of student life. The children were shown the college papers, Belfi eld FM, exciting science experiments and the Audio Visual society, as well has having the opportunity to play football on campus and avail of a bouncy castle that was infl ated in their honour. The children left campus with goodie bags and t-shirts, but hopefully, there was something more enduring about their visit to UCD.
The current campaign against the potential re-introduction of third-level education fees has given a lot of students a new perspective on education. For many students, access to third-level education is not something we could take for granted anymore. Slogans such as ‘education is a right, not a privilege’ resonate with us far more than they did even a few short years ago. The majority of students have vociferously expressed their outrage that education could be beyond their reach.
For most of the children that partake in Access Week, fees or no-fees, university is beyond their reach. When there is no history in your family of people going to university and when the vast majority of your peers will not consider higher education, the belief that third-level education being a basic right is idealistic. Mr Lynam explained that some of the schools that habitually attend UCD Access Week have never had a former-student attend university. For many students in currently UCD, this seems alien, but this in itself represents the inequality in education standards in Ireland.
In tandem with the fight against thirdlevel fees, Access Week promotes the idea that education is for everyone, not just those who are either fi nancially or opportunistically privileged. In the words of Mr Lynam, “UCD is a national university, it is for everyone.”
Although Access Week is not something that bleeps on the radar of many students, its importance should resonate with students.
Firstly, by inviting children to physically attend UCD, they can visualise themselves and be familiar with the surroundings of a university. It acts to demystify the place and allow the children to see that students are just older versions of themselves.
Secondly, considering UCD is a haven of multiculturalism, so too should it be a melting pot of backgrounds. As international students are actively encouraged to come to UCD, so too should extra effort be made to show children from disadvantaged backgrounds that they have a place in UCD. Undoubtedly, a diversifi ed student body can only enrich student life for everyone.
There should also be a sense of camaraderie among people. If students feel that they are being let down by the Government in light of the fees proposal, then surely they can empathise with marginalised and disadvantaged people in society. Thankfully, since the foundation of the state, Ireland has avoided having a huge class divide, like our American or British counterparts. This is something that we should maintain by doing our part to ensure that education remains for everyone. Access Week, on a small scale, shows that UCD is doing its part to make this the case.
Access Week has only been a feature of the UCD SU calendar for five years. As it involves children in fifth and sixth class, we don’t yet know if the programme has encouraged students from disadvantaged schools to work hard and obtain the points to earn a place in UCD. Regardless of this, the benefi ts of Access week should not be overlooked. The effort that students make now to encourage everyone in society to get the best education they can, and to improve their lot will undoubtedly produce benefi ts for Ireland as a whole.