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Are you satisfied with your Students’ Union?

On February 20th we launched our SU Satisfaction Survey, a survey to gauge student opinions on their SU over the last year, and more generally about how the Union is ran. We asked students thirty-six questions across five categories. These categories were: General Info, information about the person responding to the survey; Factual Questions, were respondents were encouraged to answer questions to the SU truthfully without resorting to Google; Feedback, asking respondents how they felt the SU did, generally operating on a 1-5 satisfaction scale; Engagement, seeing to what extent respondents engage actively with the SU, and what could be done to help them engage more; and finally, we gave people a section to give genuine, honest feedback about how the SU has done this year. The last section was entirely optional, as not every student may have had direct contact themselves with the Students’ Union.

145 people answered the survey in the five days it was open, with the majority of those responses coming within the first two days. 143 (98.6%) people who answered were current UCC students, with the other two (1.4%) being recent graduates. 91% of respondents were undergrads, and the rest were postgrads. Respondents were fairly evenly split as to what year in study they were in, with second, third and fourth years making up the majority of those answering, though first years were not far behind. This means that the majority of those surveyed (83.4%) had at least one other year of interactions with SUs to put their responses in proper perspective.

The first question we put to students to test their knowledge on the Students’ Union was simple, and it was to see if they knew the name of the current SU President; 94.5% put down Martin Scally, Martin, Scally, or some derivative of this. Only two respondents said they genuinely did not know, while two respondents listed former SU Presidents. Next, we asked people what the four colleges of UCC there are, as represented on UCCSU by the College Reps; only 9 people couldn’t name even one college, or just guessed wrong. Some of the answers from these 9 suggest there is a lack of knowledge among some that there is a distinction between some degrees, though this is hardly the fault of those officers.

Next we asked respondents to name the six officers of the Equality Working Group, or EWG. Those six are: LGBTQ Rights Officer (Marz Keane), Gender Equality Officer (Iris Maher), Disability Rights Officer (Rosemary Kelly), International Officer (Lucas Brun), Mature Students Officer (Díarmúid Corcoran) and SÁMH Officer (Laura O’Connor). 62.2% of respondents either could not give an answer or gave incorrect answers. Many people answering the survey also believed that the Irish Officer and Equality Officer (understandably) were among the six. Disability Officer and LGBTQ were the most common answers, with SÁMH not far behind. Again, as with the college reps, it’s hard to place blame on this year’s officers, especially as they are all part time officers. We then asked if people had heard of the EWG before reading the previous question, and people were fairly evenly split, with a slim majority (51.7%) saying they hadn’t heard of the EWG.

The last of the factual questions regarded USI, or the Union of Students’ in Ireland. Most respondents (96.6%) knew that UCC was a member of the USI, but 55.9% said they could not name a member of USI Officer Board. Of those who did name a member of officer board, most either named someone from UCC SU (namely Kelly Coyle, Martin Scally, Kate Moriarty or Anna Heverin) or named someone from a past USI OB (Annie Hoey, Cian Power and Dan Waugh, for example). Michael Kerrigan (President), Michelle Byrne (Southern Area Officer) and Siona Cahill (VP Equality and Citizenship) were the most-named of the current USI OB, but none of those were named more consistently than Cian Power, for example.

We asked students for their feedback on the SU using a 1-5 point scale, with 1 meaning ‘very poor’ and 5 meaning ‘excellent’. When asked how the Students’ Union did overall, the majority (34.5%) of respondents gave the SU a score of 2. The next highest score was a 3, with 26.2% giving the SU a middling response. Only 6.9% gave the SU a score of 5. This trend was consistent across most of the specific Sabbat Officer questions, as most either received a ‘generally negative’ (mostly scoring 1 or 2) or middling (3) score. The main exceptions to this trend were the Welfare Officer, Kelly Coyle, and Ents Officer, Ben Dunlea, who scored a higher percentage of 5s (28.3% and 24.1% respectively). The non-sabbats (Equality, Postgrad and Irish Officers, Council Chair and College Reps) received a similar share of votes, mainly 3s and 4s. We also asked students to name who they believed was the ‘best’ officer was. Kelly Coyle, Welfare Officer, ran away with the poll with 32.4% of the vote; Ben Dunlea, Ents Officer, was runner-up with 13.8% of the vote, and Council Chair Aaron Frahill came third with 13.1%. The rest of the vote was fairly evenly split among the other officers, with each officer receiving at least one vote. We asked students what they believed the best thing about the SU has been this year, and the answers that popped up most consistently were Docklands Festival, work done by the Welfare Officer and ents throughout the year – consistent with the answer from the previous question. Students felt that the worst things, generally, were the all-student emails, campaigns and the handling & cancelling of Christmas Day. This was reflected in the questions about the fulfilling of mandates, advertising of events and RAG Week questions, as feedback on those was ‘generally negative’ (mostly 1s, 2s and 3s).

In the last year, especially in the aftermath of the impeachment of UCDSU President Katie Ascough, many groups campaigning for a change to how students’ unions are run popped up around the country. Groups like FOCC UCD (Freedom of Choice Coalition UCD) have campaigned for changes to how SU memberships work, switching from the current automatic membership system for all students to an opt-in system. No such group has found its footing in UCC to date, and maybe that’s reflected by the votes in our question on opt-in membership: 69% of respondents said membership should stay the way it is currently, 17.9% of those surveyed said an opt-in system should be brought in, and 13.1% said they didn’t know how to feel. Speaking of membership, 81.4% of respondents believed that UCC should remain affiliated to USI, an important stat ahead of this year’s affiliation referendum.

Students’ Union elections are due to take place next week, with voting taking place on the 6th & 7th of March. The last major part of the survey regarded engagement, and how voting & election campaigns could be improved. The people who responded were a particularly democratic bunch, with 80.7% saying they voted in last year’s SU elections. 9% did not vote last year, and 10.3% did not vote because they were not students (i.e. first year & some postgraduate students). 89.7% said they intended to vote in this year’s election, leaving only 10.3% saying they did not intend to vote. Polling stations and electronic voting has been a somewhat controversial subject in the last few years, especially considering how close last year’s Presidential election was in the end. Generally people believe online voting would allow a lot more students to engage with the Union, but only 55.2% said online voting would make them more likely to vote in future elections; 42.1% said it would make no difference at all, leaving only 2.8% who said it would make them less likely to vote.

When it came to running for SU itself, a majority (56.6%) of those surveyed said they would not consider running for SU in the future. In saying that, a wide majority (77.2%) said they would support & encourage a friend if they came to them wanting to run for election. There was an optional part of the engagement form where people could give feedback on how to improve elections. The most consistent points from this feedback point were to cap the spending budget on election even more (current limits are €500 for sabbat candidates, €250 for non-sabbat candidates, and €100 for college reps), cap the amount of fliers candidates can use, bring in online voting, shift some of the focus of campaigning to satellite campuses like Brookfield, WGB and Copley Street, hustings during the daytime, adding more polling stations or allowing students to vote at any polling station, more accessible manifestos, more promotion of elections and more encouragement of women and people from disadvantaged backgrounds to run. Overall, 78.3% of respondents gave suggestions on how to improve elections despite the question being purely optional.

People had varying opinions on the different aspects of the SU, some I expected and some I didn’t. It must be said that if you were one of those who had less than favourable views on the SU, or showed no intention of voting in this year’s election, the best way to see that improve or change is to get out there next week and vote.