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Letter to the Editor: A Response to Prof. Deek’s interview in the Independent (Extended Version)

Letter to the Editor: A Response to Prof. Deek’s interview in the Independent (Extended Version)

President of UCD warns of pressure on teens to succeed - Independent, 16 Feb 2020

Prof. Deeks was wrong to suggest that lower-income families statistically have better outcomes than students from affluent backgrounds who perform similarly at school. The closest data available to us which compares actual weighted earnings and predicted earnings by deprivation group, the HEA report form October 2019 (A Spacial & Socio-Economic Profile of Higher Education Institutions in Ireland) disproves this notion. Action is necessary to diversify access routes away from the CAO system and to improve the SUSI grant system - not allusions that the system is creating some form of ultimate equality of outcome, that are unfounded in any research or data currently available. 

Prof. Deeks chairs the University Management Team which recently decided to raise the rents on campus by 12% over 3 years. UCD on campus accommodation already costs twice the national average. Prof. Deeks is making the decision to lock students out of education who cannot afford these outrageous prices. UCD will already take €23,000,000 from the pockets of students and their families this year to stay in campus accommodation that the University owns. Is this not enough? 

Prof Deeks’ reflections on the impeachment of former SU President, Katie Ascough, were inaccurate, and patronising toward UCD students and Ms. Ascough herself. The impeachment was due to a breach of the SU Constitution and decided via a democratic vote - this cannot be considered ‘brutal’. Additionally, stating that Katie’s assertions about her experience on campus were linked to her being ‘quite sensitive’ is incredibly patronising to the former President.

I can assure you that Prof. Deeks is not seen as ‘progressive by staff and students’. He makes decisions that benefit UCD succeeding as a business - at the cost of students and their families. This has not been popular with staff or students. The ‘Learning to Succeed’, A Climate Survey of the Irish Higher Education Sector 2019, published by Prospectus BH Associates last November, found that 43% of respondents (higher education staff) disagreed that the management capability within Irish institutions is appropriate to the standards required to meet the current management challenges and responsibilities facing higher education.The report noted a ‘lack of commitment to hearing the student voice and fostering a sense of partnership with students’.

Finally, regarding Prof Deeks’ comment regarding health services on campus for students who struggle with stress and anxiety, I’d like to draw his attention to the fact that in Ireland at the moment, the number of counsellors per student in Ireland is one for every 2,600 students, which ranks incredibly low in comparison with the recommended ratio agreed by the International Association of Counselling Services (IACS), which is one for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. This ratio is also not met on our campus. If Prof. Deeks has concerns regarding support services on campus and how students cope with stress on campus, we would urge him to review the resources spent on the Health and Counselling service on campus and to increase them. Also, based on figures released by the Union of Students in Ireland last term, students' mental health is primarily negatively affected by pressures associated with financial distress and precarious housing situations. These figures were highlighted for the University Management Team by myself back in October 2019, soon after the USI report was published. Therefore, I'd like to reiterate for the president that if he is concerned with student welfare, we would also welcome greater support to tackle spiralling costs of living and accommodation in Dublin for our students. In short, reduce on campus rent, immediately. 

Joanna Siewierska


UCD Students’ Union