Universities prepare for return to campus

Third-level colleges preparing for more in-person tuition in next academic year

Trinity College Dublin before the pandemic. The danger posed by possible Covid variants means that students should be prepared for further disruption such as the cancellation or postponement of lectures and labs.

Trinity College Dublin before the pandemic. The danger posed by possible Covid variants means that students should be prepared for further disruption such as the cancellation or postponement of lectures and labs.

 

As the Government continues the planned summer reopening of the country Leaving Certificate pupils and third-level institutions will be looking a little further ahead to what college might look like when the doors open in September.

Life for students at third level is likely to be very different this year when compared with the pre-Covid in-class model but many will still be hoping for a return to some degree of normality. Everything will of course be contingent on what the public-health guidance is in the autumn and it is too soon to rule out further disruption as a result of the health crisis.

That said, Ireland’s third-level colleges and universities have been planning for a return to campus for quite some time now and a lot of work has been put into ensuring a safe return for students and staff.

It hasn’t been easy. Last year was the most challenging faced by the education sector since the foundation of the State. Academic programmes had to be adapted to utilise new learning techniques, while students experienced severe disruption surrounding their studies and end-of-year exams.

The pandemic prompted a speedy take-up among students and institutions of virtual learning platforms, allowing students to view lectures, participate in class discussions and engage in group work remotely.

Of course, many colleges and further-education institutions had already adopted these platforms but their use varied from institution to institution. Whatever the arrangements this autumn, the benefits of virtual-learning platforms mean they are here to stay and will continue to feature as a key delivery mechanism for third-level education.

Patience and flexibility
Many third-level courses were subject to ongoing review and tweaking over the last 12 months as course organisers and planners learned more about the strengths and weaknesses of the delivery platforms available to them. Students considering changes to their CAO choices should make sure they are up-to-date with the latest developments regarding the course they are interested in.

So what should students expect in the autumn? Most colleges are hopeful of some return to the in-person in-class approach but patience and flexibility will be key for students and staff alike.

As the vaccination programme accelerates throughout the summer so too will the lifting of restrictions. However, even if students are likely to spend more time on campus than they did last year, it would be a mistake to ignore the safety measures designed to protect them from the virus.

The danger posed by possible Covid variants means that students should be prepared for further disruption such as the cancellation or postponement of lectures and labs. Most colleges have a dedicated page on their website outlining the latest advice along with additional information that may be relevant to their institution. It is worth keeping up-to-date with this page.

Of course, third-level is not just about achieving academic excellence. A well-rounded educational experience is also about personal development and the social experience offered by college life.

While students will most likely need to wear face coverings and practise social distancing while on campus, right now hopes are high of a return to some semblance of normality.