Owen Ward, an Irish Traveller and a professional master of education student at NUI Galway, has been elected by postgraduate students onto the university’s Údarás na hOllscoile — the university’s governing body. This is the first time that an Irish Traveller has been elected onto a university governing body in Ireland.
Údarás na hOllscoile is responsible for managing all the affairs of the university. It is chaired by the Hon Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, with members including president of NUI Galway Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, registrar and deputy-president Pól Ó Dochartaigh, representatives the university staff, ministerial nominees, and students’ union and local authority representatives.
“As an Irish Traveller who has overcome many barriers, this successful outcome demonstrates how open and respectful NUI Galway has become,” Mr Ward said of his appointment. “This reflects the values of the current strategic plan at NUI Galway. I plan to bring a proactive postgraduate voice to this forum and to represent the diversity of issues that affect postgraduates on campus.”
Owen Ward left school at 16 years old and never sat the Junior Certificate or Leaving Certificate. Instead, he returned to education on an Access programme at NUI Galway, where he successfully completed the programme, secured his place in university, and graduated with an honour’s degree. He is the first in his family to go to university. At present he is in the final months of completing a professional master of education. He also mentors students from disadvantaged backgrounds at NUI Galway to be successful within higher education.
Last summer Mr Ward was elected on the university societies coordinating group as the cultural and social representative. Within this role he worked hard to ensure an enhanced positive student experience for all students within the cultural and social constituency including international students, students with disabilities, LGBT+, and ethnic minorities.
He was also a co-founder of the Mincéirs Whiden Society, along with fellow Traveller students at NUI Galway and the Galway Traveller Movement. The first Traveller student society in higher education in Ireland, Mincéir Whiden means ‘Travellers talking’ in the Cant language, which is spoken by the Irish Travelling community. He has worked alongside the students’ union, senior university staff, and the Higher Education Authority to ensure a stronger student voice and better outcomes for all students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Mr Ward is also the coordinator of NUI Galway Schools of Sanctuary programme, an outreach component of the NUI Galway University of Sanctuary initiative and NUI Galway Access Centre. Schools of sanctuary promote the welcoming of refugees, asylum seekers, Irish Travellers, and other migrants and minorities into educational communities in meaningful ways, while highlighting pathways into higher education.
He sits on the University of Sanctuary steering committee which introduced University of Sanctuary Scholarships Programme for International Protection Applicants, refugees, vulnerable migrants, and Irish Travellers. NUI Galway is the first third level institute in Ireland to offer scholarships to members of the Travelling community.
The Hon Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, chair of Údarás na hOllscoile, said: “I would like to welcome Owen to Údarás na hOllscoile, and it is great to have him join. I am delighted to see NUI Galway lead the way in this area. The university has a proud tradition of welcoming members of the Travelling community as students. It is great to see Owen take on such a senior leadership role within the university. I look forward to having the benefits of his experience and insights on Údarás na hOllscoile.”