The candidates for the sabbatical positions of the University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) spoke to The College Tribune about their opinions on the Students’ Union rejoining USI, whether UCD should reduce fees, the possibility of another ‘No-Disadvantage’ policy and to rate UCD’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Darryl Horan, Molly Greenough Sarah Michalek, Aoife Bracken and Carla Gummerson are all running uncontested for their positions and you can read who these candidates are in their biography pieces. Alternatively, you could vote for Reopen Nominations.

The same questions were put to the candidates for the UCDSU Presidency, which you can read here.

On UCDSU Rejoining USI:

The sole candidate for Campaigns and Engagement Officer, Darryl Horan is in favour of rejoining USI stating that membership of the national students’ union is the best way to fight back against “the crisis in higher education”.

Molly Greenough, the sole Welfare candidate, doesn’t think there is “enough student interest to justify a referendum at this point in time”. She feels the cost burden which rejoining USI would force upon the Students’ Union is too great. Greenough says that she would carry out the results of the referendum “regardless of [her] personal opinions”.

Seeking re-election to Entertainment Officer Sarah Michalek, said “I would support whatever the students express they want to do regarding this matter.”

Aoife Bracken, the only candidate for Education Officer, would not currently support re-joining USI nor does she think a referendum “would be fair” given the ongoing pandemic and the implications it would have for turnout.

Carla Gummerson stated that she “would support UCDSU re-joining USI” conditionally on USI investigating reforms on “how democratic and transparent USI is” and “the costs associated with” rejoining it.

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On UCD Removing or Reducing Fees for Students:

Darryl Horan stated that the ongoing pandemic “has exposed the structural weaknesses of the model of Irish higher education”. Horan mentioned his support for the “the People Before Profit motion calling for an end to all fees, moving to a fully-funded model free at the point of delivery”. He cites the fact that Irish students pay the highest ‘free fees’ of any EU state, calling for a move away from a model built on the exploitation of international students and casualized workers.

Molly Greenough argued that UCD should “certainly reduce fees in light of the immense implications of the pandemic”, as a result of the “the social aspects of college” and the lower quality of students’ education. Greenough continued, “as well, many students and their families are facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. As long as UCD continues to run as a for-profit business, students will suffer.”

Aoife Bracken said that “any movement to totally remove fees would have a huge negative effect on the university and its current and future students”. Bracken would rather support a fee reduction that “looks beyond the pandemic” though is still willing to stand behind any student movement for a fee reduction or compensation.

Sophie Michalek thinks that UCD should absolutely at least reduce fees as a result of the tough mental, financial and physical year that students have faced. “So many have been laid off work or can’t get back home, can’t use the full extent of the facilities in UCD,” she says.

Carla Gummerson calls for a minimum of a reduction of fees along with a further rebate that extends to international students.

On Another ‘No Disadvantage’ Policy

Darryl Horan lauded the success of last year’s policy as a “step in the right direction “as seen by the fact that only 2.7% of modules attempted by students were failed” calling for an expansion of the supports available to students.

Molly Greenough also argued in favour of the reintroduction ‘No Deisadvantage’ policy, though with the stipulation that the policy should be enforceable and allow for student appeals. Greenough supports this claim saying; “Perhaps UCD forgot that the immense impacts of the pandemic didn’t disappear after May 2020. Students are tired, lonely and drained. They’ve lost loved ones, struggled with online learning and grappled with mental health issues.”

Aoife Bracken: “I believe that considering the issues with the original policy and UCDs unwillingness to stick to their promises a new policy would need to be negotiated. The situation has also changed, the pandemic is no longer something extremely new and so any policy would need to reflect the situation students find themselves in now having completed a full year online.”

Sarah Michalek doubted the fairness of the policy calling attention to the gaps between “what the SU were promised” and the policy that was implemented. Despite this, Michalek says she does “believe the idea of the ‘no disadvantage’ policy was a great shout”.

Carla Gummerson supports the implementation of a policy in line with the “sentiment of ‘No Detriment'”. Gummerson would also like to see an extension of the supports available to students such as “no resit/repeat fees” and that “Covid must be seen as an extenuating circumstance”.

How would you rate UCD’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic?

Darryl Horan graded UCD 4/10 – “This probably deserves to be a failing grade”. Horan states that “UCD grossly let down students in the cause of maintaining revenue” from their actions surrounding the return to campus “it’s clear to say UCD put profit before people.”

Molly Greenough graded UCD a “generous” 2/10 – derived from the issues with the ‘advisory not mandatory‘ No Detriment Policy, “the gross overestimations of in-person learning, reduction in library hours, and refusal to consider fee reductions/enacting a new ‘no disadvantage’ policy make it difficult to praise UCD at any level.”

Aoife Bracken graded UCD a 4/10. Bracken states that “UCD did not have students’ best interests at heart when announcing how much time students would spend on campus”. She further criticesed UCD’s “decision to change results day and thus remove the provisional grade period also had a negative impact on students, especially those in final year”.

Sarah Michalek graded UCD a 7/10 – Michalek acknowledged that both staff and students are “struggling in this new normal of a fully online workplace”, however, she criticised management for overpromising “time spent on campus or attempting to implement the 1-meter social distancing at the beginning of the year”.

Carla Gummerson graded UCD a “middle of the road” 5/10 – “Staff, faculty and tutors would get an 8/10”. She notes that UCD did right by students living in residences “making the decision for students to leave much easier”. Though notes that UCD “overpromised, underdelivered and miscommunicated” to students regarding the return to campus life.

Hugh Dooley – News Editor