By Emer Walsh

Currently in his fourth year of a BSc in Applied Maths and Physics, former School of Science, Engineering and Food Science Representative and Council Chair of the UCC Student Union, Stephen O’riordan is running to be the Student Union’s Education Officer for the 2022/23 Academic year, the only full-time role being contested in this election. This is your chance to get to know him more so you can make an informed decision in this year’s UCC Student Union Elections.

Beginning with the Basics:

Why did you decide to run for Education Officer? 

Good question – that is always the question I ask before I ever run for any position; Why do I actually want to do it? It is probably one of the easiest questions but always a fun one to hear the answer for. I suppose, I have been working in a lot of educational spaces in the university for the last four years, with being Class Rep, SEFS Rep and Council Chair. In the last year, the number of meetings that I have sat in, it’s a lot. It’s very eye-opening when you get an idea of how the university functions. Having seen how it functions has made me realise that there are a lot of things that I could actually change or make a positive impact on. 

I suppose, more to the idea of that question is, why do I want to make the changes in the first place? Any time I have run for a position within the student union, it has always been for the same reason; I want to make the experience of students after me better than the experience that I had. Basically, if there is one small bit that I can improve to make students’ lives easier, in the end, I can turn around and say “I have made a positive difference.” That’s on the large scale, but on the short scale, I really enjoy helping just one person that has an issue. Just to be able to stop someone’s conversion or help someone nervous about results and calm them down. Making just one person’s life easier is the only reward you actually need for these positions.

Why should people vote for Stephen O’Riordan?

The last four years in education have changed quite a lot, from being all in person to being all online to being a mix of the two. Now we have a lot of academics saying that from September, they will not be doing online. I think in the next year, we are going to see a complete shift in the approach to education in the university regarding what exactly we are doing if teaching is going forward in person. There are a lot of questions about lectures and recordings currently being asked and I think whoever the next education officer is needs to know what conversations have been going on in the past while, and I think I actually have the experience of actually having done that.

As I said, myself and Imasha probably agree on every policy decision, none of this is actually contentious and everyone thinks that education should be improved in the same ways. The reason I think people should vote for me is that I have actually had these discussions already so I am better equipped to be able to hit the ground running and do the job.

Talking about Experience:

With your past experiences in the student union in mind, what would be your top priority if elected?

My main priority is protecting a lot of the supports that have been there for the last two years and trying to encourage as much hybrid learning in terms of notes being made available as well as lecture recordings with people being able to attend online. I think there is a mad dash to get rid of these supports, and I find it both sad and funny in the same way. 

For example, DSS students have been fighting for lecture recordings for years, probably decades. Then, suddenly everything went online and we realised that lecture recordings could actually be done, they just did not want to before then. It’s clearly not a capability issue, they’re just deciding not to make these resources available. So, my biggest priority is keeping alive the supports that have been there the last two years. They have been done before, there is no reason why it can’t continue to be done.

And Now, for the Nitty and Gritty:

With motions circulating at the moment to increase student fees, regardless of what these are for and how they will benefit student well-being, how do you plan on protecting students from already extortionate fees based on an EU Perspective?

Right now, capitation fees student contribution is not actually covered by SUSI supports, so every student still has to pay it. One way of reducing these fees for low-income people who are not financially stable enough to do it is probably the most direct way of addressing it in the short term like this. There is not really a lot you can do with the long term without actually changing the economic situation. 

I think, whenever everyone is voting, it’s not just whether you as an individual can afford that five euro increase or 50 euro increase, it’s whether you think what you are getting for that money is worth it for every student to pay. I think that is how any student contribution fee needs to be framed. Many will probably vote in an individual way when it comes to fee increases, but the five euro increase will raise €125,000, the €50 increase will raise over a million. I think this is how you have a better conversation around students financially supporting capitations. 

In terms of helping students, I think financial assistance that have actually been expanded due to COVID could help students who are not capable of paying capitation fees, because it is terrible that you get locked out of library and Canvas access if you do not pay these fees, which is ridiculous. Including the government, there is six grand being paid for your education, but if you don’t pay the €110 capitation fee, you are locked out from these resources. You should have access to these supports whether you have paid the capitation fees or not.

How do you plan on supporting students next year following the return of in-person exams, especially when many students have not done them before?

I myself have done in-person college exams and I did my Leaving Certificate in person. I have done these things that some people have not and I am still nervous to go back to in-person exams. A lot of things that are currently being organised are definitely things that I would like to do again next year in terms of workshops for how to study, how to prepare notes, how to set yourself up for an exam. 

Also, just informational things that could be shared on Instagram stories r visual walk-throughs going through things like how to get to Neptune Stadium, where it would say, “Here is where the bus to Neptune Stadium leaves from, You go in there, you sit down, you leave your phone in your bag and turn it off when you get there. You take things out of your pencil case and out your pencil case underneath the table.” Just simple things like that. I think it’s all these small things that build up to an intense fear around what it is. So, I think just explaining the procedure and explaining the step-by-step process will get rid of a lot of the fear of the unknown.

Past that, I think there is a need to work directly with Class Reps when their courses are anxious about in-person exams, as well as utilising the Skills Centre and IT Services about how to actually prepare for them. Those are institutional things but if anyone is still nervous about it, I am more than happy to take a phone call and chat with them as well because I think sometimes, just talking to a human being about why you’re afraid settles the nerves a little bit. 

Voting for the UCC Student Union Elections and Referenda open on Monday, March 21st at 9 am. Further information on voting can be found at the UCC Students Union, and all voting will take place online.