As former Campaigns Coordinator and current Chairperson of DU Amnesty, Senior Sophister BESS student Aimee Connolly places student engagement at the centre of her bid to be Trinity’s next Education Officer. Speaking of her own interest in the Union, she said: “I ran for BESS Convenor at the end of [last year] and that’s when I started really getting interested in academic issues.” Connolly is also an associate trainer with the National Student Engagement Programme.
Connolly is optimistic about the level of student engagement with the Union. She praised the quality of debate in Trinity. “Students do have a real voice here, and our opinions do actually really matter. They can bring things a long way, but I would like to increase our engagement and try and actually listen to students that feel that they are disenfranchised,” she said. When discussing recent discontent with the Union, Connolly welcomes dissenting voices and warns against a lack of diversity of thought on the college campus. “Different opinions which stir the pot keep [the SU] on their tippy-toes,” she said.
As one of only two female candidates to run for sabbatical position this year, Connolly was keen to discuss the lack of women running for SU positions. The sole Education Officer candidate argued: “[Women] are scared to put themselves forward, but [the SU] are moving in the right direction.” She stated that the lack of female involvement in elections cannot be solved by one individual, but should be addressed by the SU and society in general. She is eager to see an increase in the number of female candidates in next year’s election.
With regards to an SU focus on local or national issues affecting students, a perennial topic of discussion for the Union, Connolly believes in the political action of the Union but stated that it must strike a balance. When asked how the SU could achieve this balance, Connolly argued that certain political movements in the Union are productive but should not come at a cost to the “nitty gritty things,” something she believes every sabbatical officer should be conscious of.
Many disenfranchised students have focused on the Union’s stance to campaign for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, which appears to have been the main national focus of the Union this year. With a referendum likely to occur in May, however, the Union may have to shift its primary campaign focus come summertime. When discussing the Union post-referendum, Connolly is reserved. She recognises that the Union will have to “see how that referendum goes before deciding, but higher education and funding is something we need a good push on, because support has slowly started to dwindle in the past months”.
“We might be coming to a bit of a crossroads with this,” she continued. “I would like more of a refocus on higher education funding in the next year, as Union of Students in Ireland had a great campaign that they have been running, which I think peaked at the beginning of the year, and I would like to see it continue throughout.”
Turning to Connolly’s specific campaign promises, the Education Officer candidate is eager to discuss her proposal for a mandate review. She wishes to make Schedule 4, the document listing SU mandates, more “transparent and digestible”. With the Union bound to over 90 mandates, Connolly argues that some might not have been followed as “we don’t even know that [the mandates are] there half of the time”. Connolly seeks to create a schedule which only includes mandates that “we are comfortable that we can work on”.
The BESS student remained pragmatic when asked about the SU’s deficit, which stood at €14,837 last year. Connolly noted the necessity to “cut corners” and “work with what we have”. She stated that SU spending is always valuable but believes that little cutbacks could make a significant difference, although she did not name any specific resources the Union could cut.
In relation to the upcoming preferendum, where students will be asked to vote on the adoption of supplemental exam fees in exchange for modular billing, Connolly did not hesitate. “I am entirely opposed to supplemental exam fees but I am still considering modular billing,” she told Trinity News. She was happy that the current Education and Welfare Officers proposed a preferendum. She said: “If we had decided it at Council that evening, we wouldn’t have had enough information to make any kind of decision and that would have been quite negative for students.” Whatever option is the least burdensome for students is the stance the Union should adopt, Connolly believes.
Exams are an area every Education Officer is familiar with and, due to the Trinity Education Project (TEP), the examinations schedule will be radically different next year, something with which the Education Officer will have to adapt to. Speaking on the merits of the project, Connolly said: “I really like everything to do with TEP, but my only concern with such a large scale project is that there will be hiccups in the beginning, and it’s all coming in quite soon, it’s something so large and might have some problems…I don’t think problems will arise within certain aspects of it, but across the board, with implementing new rules because it is so large.” For now, Connolly’s main concern with regards to examinations is acquiring quality venues. She argues that exam centres need to be suited more specifically to various kinds of exam-takers. She noted the need for “noise control, computers and scribes”.
Social media engagement features heavily in Connolly’s list of campaign promises, with creation of a dedicated TCDSU Education Facebook page her most ambitious social media goal. She feels the Facebook page would allow her to communicate to students “about what is happening with [TEP] and what is being implemented at the time”.
In addition to the Facebook page, the Education Candidate also wants an online comment box and questionnaire for students. Each area of the Union would have its own comment section on the SU website, she envisages, and the feedback would be discussed at sabbatical officer meetings. Receiving feedback “on a more continuous basis may be more productive…this could get some really good engagement”. In addition, the creation of an online support hub containing blogs from students outlining their experiences in certain areas, and a “Who to Contact Campaign” to advise incoming students on the services available to them are among Connolly’s plans.
Further emphasising the need for increased engagement with the student body, Connolly wishes to implement convenor catch-ups in order to reduce communication issues between students and officers. She argues that opportunities to liaise with class representatives are scarce. Speaking of her experience as both a convenor and class rep, Connolly said: “The only time you get to meet your reps one-to-one is class rep training, and then it is up to you to build up that relationship.” She argues that if you miss class rep training, you miss your one opportunity to interact with your class representatives. She also suggested a possible review of faculty involvement with students, which would include assessing the frequency and quality of faculty meetings, and their inclusion of student input. “Some departments are excellent and will have meetings all the time, and some, not so much…some will have several meetings a month and some will have one per semester,” she explained.
Career opportunities and employability are at the forefront of Connolly’s campaign, as evidenced by her campaign promises. The BESS student believes that young people’s mentality around employment has changed, stating: “When I was in first year I didn’t even know what an internship was, and now after speaking to first and second years, that is what keeps coming up: career focus and internships.” She believes that the current state of the job market forces people to consider their career earlier in life than before. “Having a degree on its own these days almost means nothing, and it is how you get those graduate attributes that matters.” The improvement of Careers Week and implementation of guidance training for tutors are two of her career-related goals. She said that she would like to see “better signposting service being introduced, where students come in with concerns and can be pushed in the right direction”. She pointed out that the Careers Advisory Service have expressed interest in introducing this support. She is hopeful that these measures will be successful in helping students excel outside the lecture hall.
An ambitious plan to introduce a module fair also features in her campaign manifesto, which she wishes to pilot next academic year by involving lecturers and past pupils of one school in each faculty. She believes students should have more information on module choices before making a decision. Criticising the lack of information provided on modules, she said that currently “what you get is a module outline that says the learning outcomes and the spread of coursework, and you end up going into courses almost blind”.
Increased communication with the student body and a renewed careers focus prove the main campaign promises of the sole Education Officer candidate this year.