The IUA say student experience is a priority for universities in semester two

Aoibhín Meghen

In a statement, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) said that universities are conscious of the uncertainty students are facing and have therefore planned to begin semester two of the academic year predominantly online.

This has been done to provide students with more certainty in the coming months but according to the IUA, “the ambition is to increase in person teaching and face-to-face activities on campus should evolving public health guidelines permit it.”

Jim Miley, Director General of the IUA said that it is their aim to have an “incremental increase in face to face activity” for semester two. 

“It may mean that some students who are currently operating almost totally online might have the opportunity for small group teaching on campus if that is permissible under the prevailing public health circumstances,” said Miley.

While the IUA have said their focus is on improving the student experience, concerns about drop outs are still high particularly amongst first year students . 

A study conducted by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) found that 17 per cent of university students do not complete their degrees, this reaches 24 per cent across the entire higher education sector. 

According to the HEA, DCU had the highest university non-completion rate at 20 per cent. Drop outs are expected to increase across all higher education in 2020/2021 as students struggle with online learning and lack of face to face interactions.

Chair of the IUA, Patrick Prendergast told the Oireachtas Education Committee that in order to provide more contact hours universities need extra funding to ensure that it can be done while following public health guidelines.

“This includes, not just classroom activity, but also some additional extracurricular activities to enable students to have at least some limited level of on-campus experience,” said Prendergast.

The IUA represents all seven Irish universities, DCU, UCD, Maynooth University, University of Limerick, Trinity College, University College Cork and University of Limerick (UL)

Of these seven, DCU and UL are the only universities so far that have announced their intentions to continue with online learning in the new year.

It seems as though a return to normal campus life is still a long way in the future as Miley said: “Until we have widespread community take up of a vaccine any change is likely to be much more on the incremental side than transformative.”

Aoibhín Meghen

Image Credit: Swiss Facades