Education Officer Candidate: Ciarán Mac Choncarraige

Interviewed by Heather Robinson

Why are you running for election?

An event that really swayed me was the National Demonstration that the Union did with the USI back in October. I was really involved with rallying students to get involved in that, I even organised a session to make posters upstairs in the art room. I really realised at that rally how important your education is and how important it is to have good representation. That was when I made the decision.

I have two years of experience representing students on the Students’ Union and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. When I first stood up in first year to volunteer to be a class rep, Students’ Union has been really central to my life as a student.

Since the first day I have gone on to be a class rep in every subject that I study, I currently represent the College of Arts in the Students’ Union and I know what it means to represent a body of people. I think that the role I have at the moment as Convenor of Arts and even my role as Class Rep are kind of mini Education Officer roles in themselves; a lot of the case work I had to deal with would’ve been to do with academic affairs and problems students had with their education so I think I have the right experience.

What key skills/personality traits should an Education Officer have?

I think an Education Officer needs to be driven. Hard work and organisation are key. Long story short, an Education Officer should be strong voice for students, somebody who has the backbone to stand up for the students for the betterment of the quality of their education.

Organisation is essential because not only does an education officer represent students on college boards and committees, but one of their main responsibilities is actually the co-ordination of Class Rep Council, and the general informing of the student body about what the Union are doing at any given time.

I think all officers at the Students’ Union not just the Education Officer need to be approachable. I can’t emphasise that enough; general friendliness and enthusiasm are extremely important and I would encourage any student to approach me about issues that are affecting them now in my role.

What are they main Education issues affecting students in NUI Galway?

Two of the main student issues would be financial hardship and the lack of adequate peer to peer academic support.

As I mentioned earlier, we participated in the National Demonstration with USI back in October because we recognised that one of the biggest barriers for students in their education is a financial one. Over 38% of students nationwide avail of a SUSI grant – and that includes people in their thousands in this University. An Education Officer has a direct line with SUSI, the fees office, all relevant committees and organisations, and they deal with that case work daily. It’s extremely important to me that a student’s potential in their education isn’t hindered by a lack of financial stability.

The second point then would be academic support. It is extremely important to support sudents throughout their academic careers. We have a lack of adequate support system there in terms of peer to peer mentorship.

We have Céim which is excellent. It’s a Students’ Union lead initiative but it only currently applies to a select group of students; engineering students, and legal studies and geography in Arts. I believe if we expanded this programme college-wide you would see two things: there’d be a decline in drop-out rates and repeats, and there’d be an increase in students’ ability to tackle the challenges third level education presents to them. One statistic about Céim for instance is, on average, students who participated have achieved 7% higher in their marks in comparison with those who haven’t.

I conducted a survey on students in Arts with 350 people who have participated in it and there seems to be a general higher satisfaction rate with Céim than opposed to the alternate student mentorship that’s in place at the moment. I think if we provided that support we’d improve the entire student experience.

Outline your main objectives if elected.

As I said before Céim needs to be funded and expanded more throughout the college. I remember back in First Year when I first heard of Céim I really wanted to participate in it. Then of course I found out it was only available for engineering and legal studies students so I couldn’t participate as I’m not a student in either of those programmes. Expansion would lead to the betterment of education for a large group of people.

I want the Students’ Union to engage better with students on a base level. For my nominations – I think when people are running they go to their friends – I set myself a challenge and I said I would approach random students instead because you’ll find there’s a large amount of students in this college who have never had some sort of engagement with the Students’ Union at all. And why would you run for a position representing students if you’re not going to talk to them?

In terms of engagement, trying to make Class Rep Council and activities of SU being more accessible and visible to students as a whole. One thing would be a campaign in First Semester called Represent! I’d involve the National Student Engagement Programme. They provide class rep training but it would be great to have them in as key note speakers and make a real event of it.

Livestreaming class rep council: the amount of people scrolling through Facebook, even if they were a little bit curious they’d watch for five minutes and it’d make a huge difference.

I’m trying to achieve empowerment. A lot of my manifesto points are around that. This year we have seen a huge surge in the number of students who are participating in elections, there’s a lot more nominations and candidate. A lot of the points I touch on in my manifesto would aim to give students the best possible opportunities in their education to develop themselves. Education isn’t limited to what people learn in the classroom either. I’ve developed a lot of my own skills through extra-curricular activities and working as Education officer my work would emphasise that.

Key points of your manifesto.

They fall under four main headings. That’d be: mentorship, so Céim, and an alumni mentorship scheme. We have an excellent alumni in this college and we need to engage with them more. The idea is that alumni come in and take second year students an hour every month, alumni who are working in the sectors these students would like to work in with two results: a tangible link for alumni with the alma mater but also a tangible link with the work place.

A general improvement on the timetable and the website. There is a lack of standardisation across the college in terms of timetabling. There are several colleges who have a system in which is called CIMS Go which is an automatic timetabling system.

Looking at the website itself, come registration time, traffic is getting to a criminal level. Students are applying for competitive modules and the website crashes and they don’t get their place. That’s affecting the opportunities students have within their courses and that is wrong.

The skills workshops idea that I had circulates around the idea of your education as a whole, expanding the lifeskills courses; languages, graphic design, and digital literacy using basic programmes. If we had somewhere below a diploma, it’d cost less and give students the opportunity to develop for example language skills, and increase their employability.

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