UCDSU Election 2021: Education Candidate Aoife Bracken

Image Credit: Fiadh Melina

Politics and International Relations student Aoife Bracken aims to bring her skills as class representative and auditor to the role of Education officer.

Aoife Bracken is a 21-year-old student in her final year of Politics and International Relations. She views the most important aspects of the position as the hopeful transition back to campus, making casework a priority, and helping students who need guidance and support. Bracken believes that students should vote for her due to her particular interest in policy, her experience as being a helping hand during her tenure as a class rep, and her understanding of the difficulties students face when seeking help.

Bracken acknowledged the difficulties relating to students’ engagement with the SU, suggesting that “The SU should be more forthcoming with what they do day-to-day.” Commenting on the potential disconnect between the students and the Union, she said: “sometimes the Union is too vague with their goals, and therefore students become disillusioned with what the Union can or can’t do”. To remedy this, she highlighted the strength a “multi-pronged approach” would offer, noting how “making as many small but important changes that benefit students as possible is the best way forward”. Considering the election process, Bracken sees the online voting system as having a place upon a return to campus. She links this back to her point on student engagement, stating “If you want to engage with more students, it should be as easy as possible for them to vote”. 

When reflecting upon the online learning experience students had, she pointed out both UCD’s achievements and shortcomings. Some lecturers and schools have been “totally onboard”, and she gives credit to UCD for “implementing a certain amount of training with Zoom and Brightspace”, as well as having praise for the routine of lecture recording and uploading. However, she also highlighted the pushing back of provisional grades, noting how it hindered students in accessing supports such as IX grade applications. She went on to describe how UCD had to spend time “catching up on their mistakes”. She also acknowledged the online workload and the mismanagement surrounding the Covid-19 Assessment Guidelines as issues, claiming that it is “Unfair to expect students in a pandemic to increase their workload when they weren’t aware that the workload would increase.” In light of a recent surge in discussion surrounding e-proctoring, she expressed an understanding of the University wanting to prevent students cheating but noted that UCD had “jumped into it without really considering issues such as data protection and how stressful it is for students”. 

Bracken’s manifesto contains five main points she hopes to achieve, broken down further into three more long-term ambitions and two short-term goals. Many of these goals focus on the readjustment back to on-campus learning, such as a focus on developing the library campaign and a reorientation programme. When asked about plans to address student’s current concerns with online learning, Bracken expressed a desire to reach out for student feedback regarding their coursework to be presented to individual schools. Considering lobbying to UCD as a whole, she explained that targeting individual schools and programmes “would be more efficient in that there would be a quicker resolution to the problem. 

Bracken voiced concern with how little attention is being paid to the library services in the current climate, noting how there had only been one University Management Team Library Strategy Group meeting of the academic year. To combat this, she is prioritising availability for the library by lobbying for increased booking availability and opening hours. 

One of the most ambitious goals of Bracken’s manifesto is her desire to establish a fund for students to pay for resit and repeat fees. She noted that the source of this funding would come from her budget as Education Officer, as well as “part of fundraising initiatives from the Union into it”. This scheme would be built upon a receipt system, describing this as “the best way to ensure that it isn’t abused”. The full fund has not been costed out yet, as there is still work to be done deciding if it will be used as a supplementary system or one that pays the fees outright. The exact budget has not been accounted for yet, and in its current form, Bracken assumes that there will not be a vast discrepancy between last year’s budget compared to this year’s. 

The fund will not be means-tested. Bracken used examples of other funds available on campus that are means-tested and highlighted their strict nature, saying how “while it is used to ensure that students who need the money get it, it can be quite strict and can cut students off who are just on the edge, and makes it a lot more stressful.” This fund will be made available to all students. 

Aoife Bracken views helping students as a top priority. She has laid out plans so that student life, whether back on campus or a continuation of online learning, is as seamless and stress-free as possible.