Third-level colleges planning for ‘significant increase in on-site activity’

Survey finds many students feel disconnect from college, and have had issues finding work spaces

When asked what positive elements of online learning students would want to keep when on-campus studies resume, most students referenced recorded lectures. Photograph: Getty Images

When asked what positive elements of online learning students would want to keep when on-campus studies resume, most students referenced recorded lectures. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Third-level colleges are preparing for a significant increase in attendance on campus from September, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has said.

Most college lectures have been taking place online since the pandemic disrupted the education system some 15 months ago. However, there is growing optimism that more in-person learning will take place, though social distancing and limited numbers are likely to apply.

Mr Harris said education authorities are planning for a “significant increase in on-site activity from later this year”.

“It will ensure student wellbeing will be at the centre of our decisions,” he said.

He was commenting following the findings of a survey of almost 50,000 students which found that most felt supported by their colleges during the pandemic. However, significant numbers lacked proper study areas, did not feel connected to their higher education institution and want fewer assignments.

The findings are contained in the StudentSurvey.ie interim results bulletin, which follows a survey of thousands of undergraduate and postgraduate students on the impact of Covid-19 on their higher education experience. The survey was carried out during February and March, and provided responses from students across 25 higher education institutions.

The results indicate that the pandemic has had a significant impact on the experience of students, and highlight their priorities for what needs to be done to support them.

More than 80 per cent of respondents reported feeling supported by their college in terms of ongoing effective and timely communication throughout the pandemic.

While most students also said they had a suitable study environment at home, such as space to work, internet access and a computer, it varies among student groups. While 74 per cent of undergraduates had a suitable study environment, this fell to 67 per cent among taught postgraduate students.

While most said they felt supported by their colleges, when asked if they felt connected to their college despite restricted access to campus, just 47 per cent of undergraduates agreed. The figure was higher among postgraduates – 58 per cent – who were more likely to have access to on-campus tutorials and labs.

More support

Many postgraduate research students reported struggling and expressed a need for more funding, more support and more access. More than a third – 36 per cent – said the pandemic impacted on their funding or their ability to fund themselves during their research.

Many postgraduate research students reported losing time, access to essential facilities and a suitable research environment.

When asked what positive elements of online learning students would want to keep when on-campus studies resume, most students referenced recorded lectures.

When asked how their college could improve support, most responses focussed on the need for more and better communication.

In response to the findings, Mr Harris said it was clear that Covid-19 has disrupted young people of significant milestones including some of their college experience.

Nóra Trench Bowles and Jim Murray, co-chairs of the StudentSurvey.ie steering group, said students have shown “tremendous resilience”, with responses indicating positivity and strength.