Sarah McGrath, a Stage 3 Radiography student, is the sole candidate for the position of Education Officer in the 2023 UCDSU Executive Elections. She is currently the Health Sciences College Officer, with prior experience as a Class Representative for Radiography.
McGrath doesn’t have the specificity of knowledge about the inner workings of UCD that some of her predecessors have had, but she demonstrates a strong working knowledge of the union, having sat on union council for multiple years.
When queried on her qualifications for the role, McGrath said, “I’ve worked quite closely with the current education officer, so I know how the role works and how I could use it to help students. I’ve been a class rep and a college officer, so I’ve really got to know how the SU works and how students view it. That has also meant that I have sat on a lot of programme boards, so I’m well acquainted with how they work and how to bring up difficult topics [...] I think my time in the student union thus far has shown me how the student union can reach out to students and make a difference in their time at UCD. I’ve experienced the panic and confusion of trying to understand how to apply for extenuating circumstances and what it means and how your grades work and it’s scary. So, I want to make it less daunting for students and make sure they feel supported in whatever they choose. I think that I have the experience and the skills to be able to do that.”
I think my time in the student union thus far has shown me how the student union can reach out to students
Like most sabbatical officer candidates, McGrath places a lot of emphasis on engagement. Speaking on the last year of the SU, McGrath said, “I think it has definitely been better, there’s still room for improvement but out of the last few years I’d say this has been one of the better ones for engagement [...] One of the main things that I think would increase engagement would be just explaining to students what the SU do. A lot of the time if I was even just talking to my friends about college, I’d know about some support or person they could avail of but only because I was a class rep or college officer so I think that needs to change and students would engage with the SU more if they knew and understood what the SU does for them.”
McGrath has a heavily policy based manifesto, primarily focusing on issues of equity across disciplines and college. Her two primary focuses in this regard are in curriculum placement, and extenuating circumstances (EC). When asked to clarify her stance on placement, she expanded, “From my work as the health science officer, I was gathering information on the clinical placements that are involved across the degrees. There is a huge disparity in the supports that students are given access to. There are some students paying for double accommodation, commuting halfway across the country, doing full-time placements, and trying to keep a job while being offered no financial support and others are getting put up in hotels with their meals paid for. It pits students against each other and creates disparity amongst professions before they’ve even entered the workforce. I’d like a placement policy in place to create some equity across the degrees and create access to support for them.”
There are some students paying for double accommodation, commuting halfway across the country, doing full-time placements, and trying to keep a job
Regarding extenuating circumstances, the current process allows for individual schools within colleges to accept or deny extenuating circumstance applications, which McGrath proposes maintains a level of inequity among students. “Some of those schools are much tougher in accepting an application than others. I don’t think it’s fair that a student’s application for EC should be determined by what school they’re in. I’d like a review of the policy and transparency in the reasoning from schools.”
As the majority of her manifesto is policy based, McGrath acknowledges that not all of her promises may come to fruition this year. “While I would love to check everything off in one year, it’s not realistic. So, I want to put plans and blueprints in place for the work I want to do to be continued and built on afterwards. By diversifying the students, groups, and communities we talk to we create more engagement on these issues, they gain more momentum and then they continue on.”
I don’t think it’s fair that a student’s application for EC should be determined by what school they’re in
Aside from her educational policy goals, McGrath’s manifesto also focuses in on the importance of sustainability, tying her points into the upcoming appointment of a VP for sustainability in UCD. “Sustainability is a communal goal; it’s not going to come about by a select few and their keep cups. We need to talk about how different sustainability actions will affect different groups and communities and we need to go to those groups and communities and bring the discussion to them about sustainability actions.”
When asked what the most important part of the job of Education Officer is, McGrath concluded by saying, “The most important part would be the casework with students. I’ve been that student feeling overwhelmed and having no idea where to being with academic support. The education officer at the time listened to me and helped me figure out what to do and guided me through the process. I’d now like to do that for someone else and extend that help to more students.”