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University of Ulster student Duncan McGregor has beaten more than 5000 undergraduates from across Ireland to be crowned the 2013 gradireland National Student Challenge winner.

Third-year law student Duncan (22) was one of 80 finalists put through their paces in Dublin last week, during a series of gruelling tasks set by eight of Ireland’s top graduate employers.

As overall champion and also winner of the debating competition, the outdoor sports enthusiast from Moneyreagh, Co Down walked away with €1000 (£855) in prize money, €300 (£256) worth of travel vouchers and an internship at leading business services firm, Ernst & Young.

The 80 finalists qualified from a pool of more than 5000 students who registered to take part in this year’s National Student Challenge online assessment.

This initial online assessment tested verbal reasoning; numerical reasoning; commercial competency and logical thinking.

Students were then ranked on a leader board and only the top 80 qualified to take part in Final Day on March 12, at University College, Dublin.

“I was absolutely gobsmacked when they announced that I was the overall winner,” said Duncan.

“It still hasn’t sunk in.”

“I honestly thought I didn’t have a chance. I was only told that I was through to the final on the Thursday before, so there wasn’t much time to prepare.

“There was a separate winner for each of the eight challenges and after I received the Ernst & Young prize for the debating task, I really didn’t think that I could win twice. So when they announced that I was also top overall, I couldn’t believe it.”

During the course of a long day, all 80 students faced tasks set by gradireland in collaboration with PwC, Microsoft, EMC, SAP, Ernst & Young, Lidl and Telefonica, with the help of Irish psychometric testing company cut-e.

All were designed to testkey employability skills such as innovation, commercial competency, mental agility and teamwork.

Duncan added: “It was an unbelievable day and a brilliant experience and despite everyone being in competition, there was great camaraderie.

“Winning aside, the challenges set by the employers were great fun to do and after the competition was over, we were able to chat to all of the companies who had taken part, so it was great for making new contacts.

“One of the most important things I learned was that interviews are now almost obsolete when companies are recruiting graduates.

“The tests I took part in during the challenge were lifted straight from graduate recruitment days and it’s these sort of tests that graduates will face in company assessment centres.

“Entering the competition was an incredibly worthwhile experience and I would encourage all Ulster students to take part next year.”

Jenny Adamson, Marketing Executive gradireland said:“Duncan was a consistently high scorer throughout all eight of the Final Day challenges.

“He demonstrated great teamwork and leadership skills all through the day and is a well deserving winner.”

Maria Curran, Head of Employability, University of Ulster said: “The National Student Challenge gives our students the chance to see how they compare to students from across Ireland’s top universities.We are delighted that an Ulster student has travelled to Dublin and secured this award.

“This Challenge helps our students apply the skills they’ve developed inside and outside universityand in a competitive marketplacemake theirCVs stand out from the crowd.

“Undertaking competitions such as these is one of the activities students are encouraged to do to receive the Ulster EDGE Award, anaward designed to enhance the employability of Ulster students by providing official recognition and evidence of activities outside their programme of study.”

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Audrey Watson,

Media & Communications

University of Ulster