What can we expect from the SU next year?

Taking a look at the manifestos and coverage of the winning candidates, Ekatherina Gillen asks what student demands and needs will be prioritised by the incoming sabbatical team.

Every year, new sabbatical candidates promise students a world of change in their university. While there is no exact way to predict how successful the incoming Union will be, it’s possible to look at their manifestos and campaign promises to derive a few predictions.

Current UCDSU President-elect Joanna Siewierska will be starting next year with generous amounts of previous experience in student politics, from her role as an elected officer on the Irish Second level Student Union (ISSU) and as a trainer for class representatives on a European level. Presently, UCD class reps are not mandated to receive training, but are offered it. Siewierska would like to ensure that in the future all class reps are provided with training on the basics of the running of the SU and their roles. It is therefore possible to assume that Siewierska would attempt to mandate preliminary training for class reps, which will hopefully lead to more efficient operating of the union and more awareness of the role of class reps and a better understanding among students in their link to the union. Combined with the incoming Campaign and Engagements Officer Katie O’Dea’s wish to take action to bridge the gap between the SU and the student body through setting some time aside for casual appearances around campus, there may be reason to, however optimistically, expect more students to engage with the Union.

Siewierska has also previously expressed her dissatisfaction with the effect of the housing crisis on student access to a UCD education because of the lack of affordable accommodation on campus, and mentioned her intent to continue lobbying for improvements and organising events informing students of their rights. The housing crisis was an issue also taken up by incoming Education Officer Brian Treacy. While it is not typically an issue that is considered to fall under the remit of education, Treacy noted his belief in taking a “holistic” approach, and identified the lack of affordable accommodation as one of the key obstacles standing in the way of students receiving a successful education. He therefore declared his intent to set most of the Education Officer’s €25,000 budget, around €18-19,000, aside for an accommodation support fund, and plans to petition both the university and the government for further support. Given the lack of significant improvements to the situation over the past year, it is likely to persist as an issue that will continue to have to be addressed by each sabbatical team, but will likely not see substantial progress this upcoming year.

Issues facing international students will also be addressed and acknowledged more than they have previously been, following the introduction of a Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, to be fulfilled by Rosaleen Aljohmani, on top of the International Students Coordinator. At Hustings, Welfare Officer elect Una Carroll was questioned on how she would address the issues concerning the mental health of international students, especially around the holidays when there are no classes and the vast majority of students are off campus, leaving those unable to return home particularly vulnerable. She expressed her intent to organise more social events on campus around that time, which coincides with Siewierska’s intent to “reach out to international students on a regular basis”, suggesting a likelihood that international students’ issues will receive more attention this year. The president-elect also mentioned working on reducing international students’ fees.

This year’s success with Green Week also suggests that it will be back next year, as it has been mentioned in the manifestoes of Siewierska and O’Dea, who was the Environmental Campaign Coordinator and hence, oversaw the organisation of the week this year. O’Dea dedicated a section of her manifesto to environmental action, proposing programs like “the Great Donate”, where students moving out of RES would be able to donate their kitchen utensils to incoming students instead of throwing them out and forcing new residents to buy the same items all over. She also mentioned wishing to continue working with Estate Services to “see the roll-out of more segregated waste facilities across campus”, having already implemented these facilities outside a number of faculty buildings thus far. Environmental issues have sprung to the forefront of global attention with alarming news of the worsening state of the planet emerging over the past year, making it a weighty issue on everyone’s mind, and one likely to receive more consideration from the incoming union and student body alike.

With the noteworthy female majority in the sabbatical team this year, it is likely that gender equality might take the spotlight in the upcoming academic year. Perhaps an even more reflective indication of that is the majority female list of College Officers, many of whom were involved with the union this year as first-year class representatives but have become highly active in student politics, showing an improvement regarding participation and engagement with the SU for the young women in UCD. Furthermore, the introduction a support group for women and non-binary individuals in student politics by outgoing Arts and Humanities officer Sophie Gibbons promises more awareness and dialogue around gender equality and representation in the upcoming year.

This year also saw the re-introduction of a team of Ents Officer as a full-time sabbatical position, which will likely lead to a bigger separation between the duties of the new Officer and those of a C&E Officer. While this year will most likely be one used by the Ents forum to get its bearings and understand the best way for future success, it should still result in more social events that will be better organised. The role of a non-alcoholic Ents officer position within the forum, which is still unclaimed, might lead to further diversity in the type of events organised next year as well.

Persisting issues, such as continued pressure on the university’s mental health services and UCD having the highest resit/repeat fees in the country, among others, will receive the Union’s continued attention next year. However, with the university conceding in the recent years to the lowering of resit fees and the hiring of more counsellors, both of which provided some relief to the issues but have not fully addressed them, it is not likely to budge further any time soon, and so few significant improvements are expected to be seen in the coming year.