My daughter’s third-level experience is pretty dismal. Is this normal?

Ask Brian: Covid and rising costs have changed the face of college life for today’s students

My daughter is  commuting to college for two or three hours because rental costs are so high, leaving  no time to take part in clubs and societies. Photograph: iStock

My daughter is commuting to college for two or three hours because rental costs are so high, leaving no time to take part in clubs and societies. Photograph: iStock

 

I’m deeply disappointed with the experience my daughter is having as a second-year undergraduate student. All last year’s classes were online; this year she’s commuting to college for two or three hours because rental costs are so high. Some of her lectures are still online, and she has no time to take part in clubs and societies. It’s nothing like my college experience in the 1980s.

You describe perfectly the dilemma faced by many students three months into their return to in-person attendance in colleges post-Covid-19.

Gone is the day when a student could earn the price of their weekly digs, washing dishes at lunch time in the restaurant in UCD, or collecting glasses a few evenings a week in the student bar.

What you experienced in the 1980s (and I a decade earlier) was, in retrospect, a very privileged introduction to adult life

Not only have the costs of accommodation rocketed, but due to the ongoing fear of Covid-19, thousands of older homeowners rattling around in empty houses close to third-level colleges are terrified to let students into their homes.

The need to protect students and staff from Covid-19 transmission has also diminished the attractiveness of college debating, drama and other society activities.

What you experienced in the 1980s (and I a decade earlier) was, in retrospect, a very privileged introduction to adult life. The combination of the academic, social, cultural and sporting life of the institution shaped us into the adults we became.

Given the financial cutbacks post the economic crash in 2011, universities sought funding elsewhere and cut their costs to the bone.

The international student market proved to be a lifeline for third-level institutions who pay much higher fees. However, much of the newly built student accommodation is aimed at these lucrative students and is out of reach for many Irish students.

Hopefully, over time, the thousands of spare rooms adjacent to colleges will come back into operation as student accommodation

Back on campuses, the cost-cutting measures stripped out many of the support services which, in previous eras, facilitated student life after lectures finished.

Your daughter’s college experience is in many ways the consequence of all the above. The rebuilding of the “college experience” should exercise the minds of all those responsible for creating the conditions in which our children learn to launch themselves into adult life.

Hopefully, over time, the thousands of spare rooms adjacent to colleges will come back into operation as student accommodation.

New apprenticeship models of learning where employers fund students to complete programmes of study alongside working to secure a skilled qualification will, if successful, give a body of students the financial wherewithal to fully engage in college life.

Colleges also need to invest in facilitating a better quality of student experience through their direct funding of clubs and societies and the support services on campus necessary to enable them to function effectively, as well as on building basic on-campus accommodation aimed at the average Irish family’s budget.

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