In “an ideal world”, university students would remain at their place of study for the duration of the semester and only return to their hometowns occasionally, the Chairman of the Central Admissions Office (CAO) has said.
Speaking to RTÉ Radio in anticipation of the release of CAO points yesterday, Chairman Prof Pól Ó Dochartaigh recommended that, “where possible”, students should “seriously consider” limiting the frequency of their usually-weekly trips back home.
He described this movement pattern specific to third-level education to be particularly risky in terms of disease control. In contrast to secondary school or daily worker commutes, “students [travel] on a weekly basis, where they will be meeting others from all over the country before going back into their home communities- and that is a potential spreader, there’s no doubt about that,” Ó Dochartaigh stated.
However he recognises this is “a tough ask”, as many students spend their weekends at home working jobs or participating in regular community activities such as sports clubs. “We’re not saying to people that you absolutely must do this, come hell or high water, but I think where anyone can reasonably do that and can cope with that, I think they should consider it, seriously,” he added.
Ó Dochartaigh, who is also Deputy President of the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway), reiterated the importance of individual student responsibility in ensuring a safe and successful university re-opening.
While protective measures, including regulating the “flow of students and staff around buildings” and handing out PPE to students, are being taken on campus and in student accomodation, “the biggest part of all of this, for all of us,” he said, “will be behaviours.” In his view, disease control efforts by any authority can only have “limited effect” without the students’ own commitment to practicing caution in their personal and social lives.
Accordingly, NUI Galway is asking students to sign up to a pledge to “be responsible in their behaviours”, particularly in regards to house parties. Though he hopes these “will not happen often”, Ó Dochartaigh stated that the university will “remain alert” to such congregations on campus, and is prepared to take “disciplinary” action if necessary.
In the context of off-campus activities, however, he noted that while the school will engage “with everyone necessary when it involves our students – sometimes the remedy will only be a civil one.”
“At the end of the day,” he added, “our power stops at university walls.”