The Department of Higher Education has advised third-level institutions to expand their use of campus activity for first year students so that they don’t drop out or disengage with their courses.
Minister Simon Harris and his department have begun talks with colleges across the country about increasing their use of in-person teaching next semester, and have asked colleges not to make decisions about next semester until after talks have ended.
“My priority going into the new year will be in increasing on-campus activity as much as we can and as safely as we can,” Harris said.
He added that he is “extremely concerned about the mental health and wellbeing of students.”
Typically, one in five students fail to complete their college course, with experts believing that online learning caused by the Covid-19 pandemic will increase the numbers of dropouts. Harris hopes to offset these figures by increasing on-campus activities and interaction between students next semester.
Many first year students have been left disappointed with the lack of in-person learning since third level institutions scaled back on-campus activity in September.
“It’s really hard to make friends, therefore it’s been really lonely,” first year student Emma Malone said. “I’m not sure if I really like my course at the moment, because I haven’t been able to experience it on campus,” she added.
DCU, Univeristy of Limerick and NUI Maynooth have already announced plans to continue with online learning into the second semester of this academic year, and its remains uncertain if they will reorganise these plans.
Harris reiterated that every decision taken by his department would be made in consultation with the Department of Health and the Chief Medical Officer’s office, to ensure the safety of those attending on-campus learning.
“Students and staff will be at the heart of all of our decisions. The more we all continue to follow public-health advice and the more we adhere to the guidelines the best chance we have in getting as many people back on site as often as possible,” he said.
Many first year students have said that the lack of on-campus activity isn’t the only factor leading them to consider dropping out of college, the financial uncertainty of Covid-19 plays a big part too.
“We should be lined up around the corner of Dicey’s… but it’s so so much bigger than that, I have no job now, what happens if I can’t pay my fees? If we’re dropping out, it’s because, what’s the other option for us? Who’s dropping in on us?” student Blessing Ogungbe said.