Simon van Beek stakes his claim for the role of Graduate Officer with ambitious plans, and while he would prefer to tackle student issues from a practical standpoint rather than a political one, we were left wanting for convincing arguments for how he plans to achieve his lofty goals.

The twenty-four-year-old hails from Germany and currently finds himself in UCD studying towards a master’s degree in Strategic Management. Having completed his undergraduate degree in The Netherlands, and also spending time living in Barcelona and Costa Rica, he certainly brings a diverse background to the table, which is also evidenced by his experience as a lifeguard, a consultant, and a finance intern. Certainly a varied CV.

We asked him why he decided to go for the role of Graduate Officer, and although not overly specific in his response, he does allude to the fact that a close relationship with the current Graduate Officer, Marc Matouc, and their collaboration on projects in the past year has meant that he, by his own admission “drifted into (the role of) Graduate Officer.”

When asked about what potential improvements he would bring to the role, Simon stated that “there were a lot of tasks we (with Marc) worked on that are still unfulfilled.”

Why exactly should voters put their faith in Simon for this role? Having only attended UCD for the past year, his potential inexperience and unfamiliarity with campus life could be possible barriers to his appointment. He is not concerned about this however, and feels that he has learned a lot from his current role. His track record from this is a point which he seeks to emphasise. His active role in the introduction of a shuttle bus service to the Smurfit campus and the Smurfit community survey were certainly successful undertakings, however his plan to install toilet brushes in bathrooms on campus “to improve the toilet culture at UCD,” is an inclusion that left us quite puzzled. Nobody is a fan of skid marks to be fair.

When delving into his manifesto, it can be noted that it is overtly Smurfit-centric, and this is in keeping with what he views as the positive initiatives introduced by Marc, stating that he has had a big influence on him, and “did a lot for Smurfit.”

Van Beek’s plans for Smurfit include the introduction of social amenities and an SU shop for the campus, with what he dubs “easily implementable” amenities such as foosball tables and table tennis being a big part of his vision. There is a big leap between a pool table and an entire SU shop however, and with the SU currently running at a deficit, Simon admits that this goal is much less realistic and that he is “just brainstorming” potential ways to facilitate that particular project. He does believe, however, that the SU should be viewed “more as a social entity rather than a company” and that issues such as the high price of coffee at the Smurfit campus should be motivating factors for getting the project over the line.

His plan for a gym to be constructed on the Smurfit campus despite one already being in place is a strange inclusion. However he assured us that he merely wants to ensure that it is in fact completed…

As detailed by his manifesto, Van Beek plans to emulate what he felt were superior career advisory services on the Smurfit campus in Belfield, however a lack of specific vision for this plan leaves question marks hanging around its legitimacy. He admits that he has not engaged with the relevant authorities to discuss implementation of his goal, saying that “I just have the student side so far.”

His gauging of the opinions of students left him feeling that the current career advisory services in Belfield were below acceptable standards, and paled in comparison to the experience he had in Smurfit, hence his plan to emulate their services, however what exactly this emulation will amount to is unclear as of yet.

Challenges surrounding the ongoing housing crisis prompted Van Beek to question UCD’s priorities, advocating for increased student housing, and the completion of the planned UCD Village blocks A, B and C. He is critical of their decision to proceed with the construction of the Centre for Future Learning, deeming it a clear dismissal of the needs of students. The basis of his argument is flawed however, with this project being funded through a loan from the European investment bank. The reality that we put to him is that there has been a 30% construction cost increase for the accomodation and there is no moving past that fact. Indeed, what can he and the SU do in this case?

Simon admits that he wasn’t aware of this fact, and in terms of presenting a solution, he says “I believe that UCD has to do something sustainable.”

The current plight of PHD workers and their recent clashes with the government over their pay and working conditions are factors which will be central to the role of the incoming Graduate Officer, however Van Beek believes that the delegation of responsibilities in terms engagement with the Postgraduate Workers Union (PWO) is the best course of action to take. He is advocating for a college officer role that is dedicated to their concerns, however his responses to our questions surrounding the pay of PHD workers and his support for their potential strike action came across as dismissive, and he further added that he would “have a of stuff to cover” besides the issues associated with PHD workers, hence the need for a “focused position.”

This hands-off stance raises legitimate questions surrounding his commitment to actively championing their cause, especially if he were to fail in his mission to install this new role. There are notable differences in the focus of Simon’s manifesto and that of his fellow candidate Kylie McCardel. Van Beek believes that the plan put forward by Kylie to reduce fees for graduate entry courses is “unrealistic to achieve” and further stating that her plan to improve accessibility services was not outlined in his manifesto as “these kinds of things are things that are innate to the position.” We asked him whether their omission could be seen as overlooking these issues, and he simply said that “the voters have to decide in the end.”

In addressing broader student concerns, Van Beek is critical of the current culture within parts of the SU, particularly with the lack of effort put into their roles by class reps. He further admits that lack of engagement is currently an issue, with people being generally unaware of what exactly the student union does, admitting that “we are not communicating very well.”

Van Beek states that more work needs to be done in terms of transparency (making the union’s stance on issues clearer), and also that social events should be at the forefront of this push to increase engagement. Indeed, with the current SU council being marred by low attendance, Simon puts forward the idea of making motions more concise as a potential way to counteract this.

Van Beek said, “I believe the focus has been too much on the Palestine-Israel conflict.”

He also believes that a shift away from what he feels is a hyperfocus on political issues could benefit the SU. He presents politics as a sort of necessary evil within the SU, however, he feels that by focusing on political issues too heavily “you’re losing the needs of students.” An approach more tailored to campus specific issues is the way forward according to him, stating that “the student union in the last year has focused a lot on global issues and not the issues primarily affecting students at UCD”. When asked for a specific example, Van Beek said, “I believe the focus has been too much on the Palestine-Israel conflict.”

Despite his energetic outreach and colourful campaign mascot, there are inconsistencies in Simon’s vision for the Graduate Officer role. While his passion for the role is evident, doubts linger regarding his ability to translate vision into action, which is a sentiment echoed by his somewhat vague outline of policies and disdain for SU politics. Does Van Beek possess the vision and strategic acumen to see his proposals through to fruition?

Jack Donlon – Section Editor