A survey undertaken by Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (SU) ahead of the release of its three-year strategic plan has found that students overwhelmingly see representation as what ought to be the SU’s primary activity. The majority of students believe that college and welfare campaigns should take precedence over political and social campaigns, it was found.
The study – which surveyed 579 undergraduate students through focus groups, open consultation, one-to-one discussions with SU officers, a paper-based survey of Council members and an online survey during the month of February – sought feedback from those with a “high level of familiarity” with the SU as well as from “less active members” so as to determine the focus of the forthcoming SU strategic plan, which expected to cost the union “in the region of” €5,000. 48% of those consulted identified as having no previous involvement with SU.
80% of respondents said that “representation” in the form of class reps and advocacy on the College Board should be SU’s focus. The second most response response, with half as many citations, was provision of student services, while one in five surveyed students favoured a focus on communications and community. Political and social campaigns was the sixth most common response, at 12%, behind college (18%) and welfare (15%) campaigns.
Speaking to Trinity News, SU president Domhnall McGlacken-Byrne said: “Possibly the most interesting conclusion of the whole process [is] that students may be more interested in being represented as students, and not necessarily in their capacity as citizens.” He said that the SU is “sometimes seen as engaging in arcane political campaigns unrelated to our central purpose” which “plausibly explains our difficulties in engaging a wider student cohort.”
Respondents to the online survey were asked to rank, on a five-point scale from “very effective” to “very ineffective”, how they rated seven SU activities. Results showed that there was a striking inverse proportionality between how important students felt an activity was and how effectively they felt the SU carried it out – by in large, the higher the importance-ranking, the lower the effectiveness-ranking. Students ranked political and social campaigns as being the activity at which SU is most effective but ranked campaigns for the improvement of student services as the activity at which it is least effective.
The SU report on the survey, seen by Trinity News, characterised the union as being considered by members to be “substantially ineffective when it comes to addressing issues that affect members as students.” It said the survey “reflects the relatively low importance assigned to political and social issues by the membership compared with local Trinity issues, as well as the dissatisfaction with SU’s ability to conduct campaigns and initiatives that address issues faced by Trinity students specifically in their capacity as students.”
One respondent urged the SU to “focus primarily on things that ONLY affect students and that ONLY the SU or an equivalent STUDENT body can effectively deal with.” Another respondent is quoted in the report on the survey as saying that the SU should be “less concerned with its political stance to do with the country as a whole (such as the water charges) and more concerned with the issues within Trinity – such as welfare, student kitchens/microwaves, etc; the problems with the tutor system, etc.”
The three most common strategic priorities cited by students for the SU, which will inform its future direction, were a focus on college campaigns, welfare campaigns and student services. More specifically, focus groups found these priorities to include concentrating on college-related campaigns rather than national ones, as well as “securing a suitable social student space” and “fostering a sense of community and place” on campus.
McGlacken-Byrne – who told Trinity News that was “dreading a scenario where the consultation coughed out exactly the findings we expected anyway” – said he was “satisfied with the results precisely because they are not obvious and not what I predicted, [thereby] validating the usefulness of the exercise.”
A draft of the strategic plan will be presented to Council on March 10th, with the official launch and adoption taking place on March 31st.