As Ireland has begun to open up again, with restrictions being cautiously lowered, universities have begun to solidify their approach to the semester, heading into a new academic year with an overall trend of much more in-person learning and on-campus activities. Minister for Education Norma Foley TD announced recently that the full opening of universities and schools will be supported financially. Since then, the government has given the all-clear for each university to decide at what level they will be open for this coming semester, bar certain expectations such as mask-wearing inside lecture halls. The decisions of universities include many factors, including, but not limited to, size of student body and size of campus. With this in mind, universities have announced their reopening plans as students move back into their accommodations.
For the beginning of term, orientation has varied based on university. Trinity College Dublin’s Students’ Union (TCDSU) recently ran a Senior Freshers Week with stands for second year students, as well as holding many in-person events in collaboration with societies. Later this month, the TCDSU is planning a Freshers fair that will run in person. University College Cork has begun, as of the week of September 13, with a combination of in-person bookable events and online events. University College Dublin has also held orientation events running in person since early September.
“There will be no vaccine card requirements for attending classes, but there will be contact tracing in place and students will have the option to receive Covid tests in many universities.”
While many universities are opening with various capacities and different Covid-19 related restrictions, there is the commonality that every university has some form of in-person classes. There will be no vaccine card requirements for attending classes, but there will be contact tracing in place and students will have the option to receive Covid tests in many universities.
University College Dublin will be open to full capacity in lectures, meaning possibly up to 500 students in every hall. According to UCD President Andrew Deeks, as stated in an email sent to all staff, there will be “no requirement for social distancing and no capacity limits for teaching activities beyond the physical capacity of the teaching venues.” Official campus sources have stated that students will be required to wear masks; however, a 2-metre rule will not be strictly in place.
In a very different approach, Trinity College Dublin has decided to restrict lecture sizes and keep to a 2-metre social distancing rule within lecture halls along with the requirement of masks. While the plan for reopening includes allowing students on campus with little limitation and includes the revitalisation of The Pavilion Bar, all of these plans will be reviewed at the end of October as part of the two-phase reopening plan. Each School will be able to decide its own restrictions to an extent, including whether lectures will be held online or in-person, and many schools at Trinity have gone for a combination of both in-person and online learning.
Fourth year Trinity student, Erin, when asked for her opinion about Trinity’s reopening procedures, stated that “things are looking positive so far and the Students’ Union has really outdone themselves for Freshers this year.” Erin continued with thoughts for the future, saying that: “Hopefully that momentum can be kept up for the year.”
Third year medical student Lauren, currently on placement, is impressed with how Trinity College has arranged placement for medical students. When asked what kind of precautions are being taken, she stated that “the main changes that have been made to safely continue clinical placements for medical students have been working extremely well.”
Lauren describes: “Every day we are required to sign into our Trinity Live app and track our symptoms. Additionally, we have had to complete our educational training on Covid and upload our vaccine certificates.” She continues about how, due to Covid, there are only a few students on each rotation, which gives the benefit of one-on-one teaching time and more hands-on experience. “The one challenge with this scheduling is that you don’t generally get to see all of your classmates during the semester, especially if they are at different hospitals. It can also be more challenging on rotations because there may be no other students to discuss your learning with, which can make it a little bit lonely.”
“Multiple universities have decided to keep large lectures online, as well as give students the opportunity to take their classes online.”
Despite the trajectory of in-person events and classes, there has also been a surge of support for online resources and accommodation for students. Multiple universities have decided to keep large lectures online, as well as give students the opportunity to take their classes online. This boost of accessible options for students has been given extra support by the Union of Students of Ireland (USI) as they have readily supported a physical return to campus for students but have also supported the need for additional support and easier access for students to both their classes and class materials.
As everything around the world begins a gradual return to normalcy, students are working to return to their version of normal. Normal includes going to coffee with friends, chatting on the way out of lecture halls and loitering around campus, reading over notes or eating a midday snack. While the new normal also includes certain restrictions and carefully placed rules, it seems as though our new normal will merge into the old normal very soon.