An independent review of UCD student services has noted concern at the “unclear” nature of the management structure as well as the “allocation or auditing of finances within student societies”.

“The overall management structure and allocation or auditing of finances within Student Societies was unclear to the [Review Group]” the report reads, “users also reported concerns with the way in which members of the Societies Council were appointed and the [Review Group] was unable to identify a clear monitoring and audit process for society finances.”

A society auditor spoke to The College Tribune on the condition of anonymity saying, “During my year as auditor there was almost no interest in how we spent the money. The society I ran had come out of a period of dormancy and I was expected to put my own money into the society with no way of knowing whether I would actually get it back at the end of the year.”

“Societies are ultimately left on their own to fend for themselves unless they are one of the big ones.” The Auditor explained that there was a general lack of confidence among those who ran societies that they were supported by societies management.

This feeling was picked up by the Review Group, which stated that students had reported “delays in access to funding and challenges obtaining guidance on managing a society and applying for grants.”

What is the Review?

The report, which The College Tribune came into possession of earlier this year, is set to undergo further assessment before being published. Sources with close knowledge of the report and staffing of the student centre explained to The College Tribune that a number of student centre stakeholders were unhappy with their representation within the report – in particular the criticism of the management of student societies.

The review took place as part of a 7-year cycle of independent reviews which Irish universities are mandated to undertake to ensure the quality of higher education services. Those partaking in the review team are independent from UCD. The reviewers heard from student users and staff of the student centre and accompanying facilities.

What else did the Review find?

The report recommended a “comprehensive review” of the Student Counselling service model UCD is currently using, which puts significant emphasis on outsourcing mental healthcare appointments to “community partners” – counselling services outside UCD. The report called for an inquest into the management processes for such outsourcing.

After noting the committed and experienced staff in the student health service, the report blamed “recruitment challenges” for the waiting times making it difficult to “match resources to patient demand.” These recruitment challenges are said to be a result of “historical, contractual challenges” which The College Tribune understands to be relating to more than just compensation limitations.

Troublingly, the Review Group noted concerns with the “governance and management of the outsourcing of counselling” which it said, “required clarification to ensure quality and risk management processes”. The level of counselling that was outsourced, the report says, has risen to 50% of all counselling appointments – a fact that The College Tribune revealed in the last academic year. The report commends the high standard of mental health counselling which takes place within the student counselling service, which it notes would be “hard to replicate” with external counselling services. Looking forward, the report encouraged UCD to undertake a “comprehensive review of the Student Counselling services model.” It also criticised the lack of purpose-built counselling rooms and the “not ideal” waiting space which it labelled as “noisy and public”.

Did they listen to students?

The reviewers engaged significantly with students within societies, with the students’ union and others. The report notes complaints and concerns from students on a variety of significant issues, such as the “concerns regarding limited access to appropriate space for student societies”. Student representatives (including the SU) decried the “overly commercialised” Student Centre when consulted by the review group, asserting that “private members were prioritised over students” in the sports facilities.

The report calls for a review of the practises “in relation to commercial activity which students perceive to be preventing them from accessing society and sports/fitness facilities.”

They encouraged UCD to include students in decision-making thereby increasing the transparency in decisions and their “financial consequences”.

Was there anything positive?

Yes, among the positives, the report commended the “high level of commitment and expertise of staff” across UCD Student Services noting their focus on prioritising “the quality of the student experience.”

Further, it noted the student facilities in the New Student Centre, the debating chamber, cinema and theatre to be of “first-class international quality and a real asset to the University.” Across the board, the staff of the student centre and assorted student services were repeatedly praised for their dedication to the student experience.

There was also a tea/coffee break in the report schedule!

Hugh Dooley – Co-Editor