GSU Elections: Interview with Gogoal Falia

Dr Gogoal Falia is the current Vice President of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), a medical doctor from India, and holds a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Trinity. Falia is contested by two other candidates in his bid to become President of the GSU but believes that his undertaking of the MBA has adequately equipped him to “manage an organisation properly, to identify where there is stuff lacking and where we can make changes”. Further, he states that his year spent serving as VP has taught him most importantly how to communicate with students, noting that he has personally met over 50% of postgraduate students, something he acknowledges as “quite the feat”.

As Falia points out, the GSU is in a healthy financial position relative to the other four capitated bodies. As Trinity News reported in November, it was the only body to record a surplus in their budget for the 2017/18 academic year, recording a net profit of €18,819. However, a number of proposals in his manifesto would seem to require a large amount of capital, including the introduction of a new sabbatical officer as well as payment of the part-time officers (PTO). Regarding the latter proposal, Falia highlights that currently the Treasurer and Communications Officer are paid €100 a month and states that he plans to extend this to the rest of the PTO staff. He says that the amount of this remuneration would be left to be decided “based on what the exec and students may decide”. Outlining the rationale behind this proposed initiative, Falia states: “One reason would be to show appreciation of the hard work they put in given that they are here for a year term. Second, it is a good way to attract students and acts as an incentive.” He recognises the hurdles that such a step would face but says that given “the low participation rates among our students” as well as the healthy financial position that the GSU find themselves in, “it shouldn’t be a problem”.

Falia also plans to introduce a third sabbatical position to the GSU, whose job would be comprised mostly of communication and administration responsibilities. He says that such an Officer is a “missing link which is extremely necessary”.

However, he acknowledges that not all of these proposals are financially viable which is his reason for splitting these goals and characterising them as either short or long term. In terms of short terms goals, Falia outlines in his manifesto that he intends to set up an assessment sub-committee to review all furniture and appliances the GSU owns and, if unfit, commission new ones. This is something that he says is “sorely needed”, citing complaints that they have received from students in this regard, in particular calling for improvements to be made to the 1937 Reading Room.

Falia also intends to find revenue generating avenues from these spaces that the GSU manage; the postgraduate common room and the 1937 Reading Room. He notes that they “have spaces in both for advertising” and highlights the SU’s use of digital advertising boards on the ground floor of House Six in explaining his plan to implement something similar in the spaces that the GSU manage. He states that such boards would not only enable students to “see what’s going on” but would also be significant in generating advertising revenue. In terms of the type of advertising that would be sought, Falia stresses that his position would be to desist from advertising any addictive products but, other than that, they would be open to “any other kinds of advertisement”.

One point made both last year in his campaign to become VP and in his manifesto this year relates to student accommodation. Falia states that his approach to addressing issues surrounding purpose built student accommodation that Trinity is in partnership would be “two-pronged”. Firstly, he notes his intention to review the contracts between these providers and Trinity: “How does Trinity come into agreement with these complexes without taking significant steps to prevent abuse of students?” He says that he also intends to lobby with the USI on this issue. “At the end of the day it’s something that’s nationwide, it’s not a Dublin problem, it’s not a Trinity problem – it’s an Ireland problem,” he says. Accordingly, he believes that the best approach is to “come together with USI and other unions, postgraduate and undergraduate, because it is an issue which affects everyone.”

A point also evident in his manifesto for both this and last year’s campaign relates to the Memorandum of Understanding between the GSU and Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU). As President, he intends to “forge a more concrete co-operation mechanism” between the two. While he believes that “the relationship between the GSU and SU is stronger than ever before,” he would like, in particular, for undergraduates and postgraduates to participate in the same events and to coordinate their events calendar.

On the issue of working conditions for postgraduate teaching assistants, he notes that there has been little progress in the past year. This, he says, is owing largely to the “significant cut to education by the government”. In particular, he wants TAs to become contractual employees of Trinity: “We are not looking for a big win. We are going to ask for paid leave and holiday pay. At this moment it may seem like a distant dream, but I believe it is something we need to get vocal about. We will not be achieving it in a year, I am practical about that, but if we stop talking, stop discussing, stop putting our point forward, this thing will not see the light of day; not unless we make the noise.”

On financial transparency of the Union, Falia highlights that the GSU have put their accounts online this year and each member of the executive have been provided with a detailed review of same. He states that he intends to continue to “push forward with this”. He notes his desire to make the accounts more accessible: “[The information] is hidden in accounting lingo and is full of numbers. We hope to make it more concise and easy to understand to those that are not accounting wizards.”

Reflecting on his year as VP and working with incumbent president Oisín Vince Coulter, Falia states: “I have worked with him really closely, I have observed him and I have learned a lot from him. If there is one thing that I have learned the most from him is networking: to be able to build relationships within Trinity, knowing which stakeholders are involved in anything – who to approach and how to approach.”

Should he become President, Falia asserts that it will be “about the team. It is going to be about the students, not the sabbats.” In terms of changes, he states that the President of the GSU sits on the most amount of committees, something which he “would like to change”. In particular, he would favour the division of the workload that this entails between the President and the Vice President so that they can “release stress” on the former. Finally, he reflects: “Oisín has been able to manage this stress and workload really well and I hope that I can do a similar job, if not better.”

Michael Gilna

Michael Gilna is a former Investigations Editor of Trinity News.