Students’ union deserves high marks for its constructive role in university restructuring

THERE is ongoing debate among academics and students as to the effectiveness and influence of students’ unions.

One of the main functions of students’ unions, as stated by Dr Danny O’Hare, president emeritus of DCU, that of “influencing the behaviour and strategy of the educational institutions,” is interesting and worthy of analysis.

The restructuring of UCC, and the student involvement in shaping that process, showed students are indeed capable of grappling with the nuances of change management for the betterment of the student lot.

My inclusion on the steering group which oversaw that process, opposed initially by some, is a clear indication of the effectiveness of students’ unions in agitating positively on behalf of students. However, I still feel that restructuring in its own right is a top-down, centralist approach and doesn’t provide a holistic panacea to the problems we collectively face.

Currently, UCC students’ union is pushing through a package that we hope will eventually lead to compulsory module appraisal across the board.

I commend Prof Áine Hyland’s work in establishing a post-graduate certificate in teaching and learning at third level in UCC. I also commend the sterling work being done to widen participation by UCC’s access office, though still grossly underfunded.

In relation to modernising the delivery of students’ education, the students’ union has consistently pushed for the full roll-out of IT learning, through ‘Blackboard’, across all courses. It is interesting to compare the level of agitation in students’ unions with the apparent unwillingness of many in the academic community to agitate against things they have the power to change.

Specifically, the promotions and appointment systems (within universities at least), which appear partisan and non-meritorious to many.

It is also interesting to note the Conference of Heads of Irish Universities’ apparent lack of clout when it comes to resisting proposals to increase students’ registration fees.

Perhaps instead of asking whether academics give credence to students’ opinions on academic matters, the question should be whether the two can join together to influence the behaviour and strategy of our educational institutions in such a way as to facilitate the development of world class third-level education.

Frank Milling

President

UCC Students’ Union

Áras na Mac Léinn

University College Cork

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