Last Thursday, mature students held a demonstration in the Mature Students’ Common Room to raise awareness about what they see as unsuitable conditions.
The current space, located in the Windle Building, can hold approximately 30 people, yet there can be as many as 60 students in the room at times according to users.
There had been an overflow space above the Common Room, but that was closed off at the beginning of the year due to health and safety concerns. Another overflow room had been provided, but that has since been closed.
Tomás Kiely, Mature Students Officer of the Students’ Union, said,
“It’s embarrassing, especially when you bring first year or prospective mature students here. We are grateful to the college for this space, but the Common Room really has become a victim of its own success.”
The Windle Building is set for renovation as part of The Student Hub project, which is set to begin construction in 2016. At present, many offices and rooms have been emptied and locked.
According to Kiely, there also weren’t any bathroom facilities available near the Common Room until very recently.
“There are fantastic rooms just down the hall that have kitchen facilities, electricity, proper ventilation and heating, and are very accessible, but they’re just sitting idle at the moment.”
The HEA (Higher Education Authority) stated the goal in its 2008 ‘National Plan for Equality of Access to Higher Education’, that Mature Students should make up 20% of full-time college entrants by 2013. Currently, mature students make up 9% of the student population in UCC.
“At the moment we feel surplus to requirements,” says Kiely. “The community we have here in the Common Room is a fantastic support structure for mature students, but there simply isn’t enough room here.”
The retention rate of mature students from first year is 83%, versus a 94% retention rate for the wider student population.
“If there was more of a support structure that would make them feel less alienated; then the extra fees could pay for a new Common Room. We’re not just giving problems to the University here, but solutions.”
Both the SU and the Mature Students’ Society have said they’ll help fund the new Common Room.
Mary O’Sullivan, UCC Mature Students Officer, feels the Mature Students’ Common Room is an essential service: “A lot of mature students commute to college every morning from all around Munster. When they do have free time, the Common Room is important as a space that they can relax during the day and socialise.
“Integration is an important issue in the case of mature students, but they need a safe space that they can go to if they’re feeling alienated or out of place among the wider student body.”
The mature students Common Room was introduced last year, and had an average daily footfall of 120 people. This figure has doubled this year, with an average of 240 people coming into the Common Room daily.
For more information on the campaign, organisers have asked people to call into the Mature Students’ Common Room itself.