The College Tribune spoke to Laois native Aoife Bracken, the solo candidate for Education Officer in the upcoming University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) elections. The final year Politics and International Relations student feels strongly about library funding and supporting students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

When asked why she chose to run for the position, Bracken explained that it is something she has considered “on and off” since she was in second year. In her role as class rep, she was able to work with the then education officer on an issue about one of her modules at the time, work which she describes as “really fulfilling”. She continued, “Out of any SU position, education officer would be the one that [I’m] best suited to […] skillset wise.”

Bracken cited her approachability as making her suited to the job: “I think that the students should always feel that they can approach their education officer and I feel that I’m the person they can approach easily.” She also noted the importance of the education officer’s willingness and ability to “dedicate themself to the case work.” On the topic of case work, I asked Bracken how much time she anticipated would be spent undertaking it as part of the role. She was hesitant to give an exact estimate, pointing out that online learning “changes the way you do meetings and case work.” She does believe, though, that “the education officer should dedicate the majority of their time – within reason, obviously – to case work and case work should always be given first priority.” While Bracken conceded that she does not have experience with case work to the level that an education officer would as of yet, she worked closely with students in relation to the issue with their module when she was class rep.

We then moved onto more specific areas of Bracken’s manifesto. She is keen to work on issues such as the library, believing that “without the library you cannot market UCD as a university that is suitable for students who may come from lower socio-economic classes.” The library, which is currently subject to restricted hours (weekdays only) due to the pandemic, is an important resource for students, providing access to free wifi, study spaces, resources, and the laptop loan scheme. Bracken hopes that by working on the library she will be able to benefit students from all backgrounds, including those who are struggling financially and students with children. She also wants to support students with disabilities by working on the issue of lecture recordings. The aim, generally speaking, is to “accommodate students who don’t have as much resources at home.”

Bracken’s manifesto mentions a fund to support students who need financial support to pay for resit or repeat fees. When asked why she is aiming for a fund, rather than a complete abolition of fees, Bracken stated that a complete abolition of fees would be “a long term project.” The fund would be a way to “mediate the problem until UCD come around to see why students think those fees should be abolished […] it’s to help students until we can get UCD to reduce or completely remove those fees.”

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One of the manifesto’s aims is to support students in the transition from online learning to on-campus learning. Bracken is conscious of the fact that first year students will be at a particular disadvantage in this transitory period, since they “won’t have sat a major exam since their Junior Cert.” As the return to on-campus learning is in no way confirmed, I asked what support she would look for if the next semester were to be online. In that scenario, the focus would be to ensure that “the workload is the same as it would be if we were in person and that normal working hours are respected a little bit more.” She continued, “Everyone’s struggling in the pandemic and lecturers are as well but it means … We all need to be nice to each other and accommodate each other and simple things like recording lecturers, putting up lecture slides, doing things on time, it makes a huge difference to students, it really does.” We touched briefly on the potential for a No Detriment policy. Bracken is happy to lobby for one if it is what students want, but caveats that it would have to be re-negotiated and adapted, as our circumstances have adapted drastically.

Bracken’s overall aim for the year is “to come out of it and to say [I] helped some students at least with their difficulties in UCD.” If this is something students want to see in an education officer, she says, then she hopes that they would vote for her.

Rosie Roberts Kuntz – Assistant News Editor