In March, students left the Belfield campus, as they have every year for the welcomed two-week respite. But this time, they did not return. Covid-19 took the country into lockdown and resulted in the closure of Higher Education Institutions nationwide.
University College Dublin’s (UCD) handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a harrowing whirlwind of serious changes, miscommunications and fierce adaptations. The university has made decisions to the detriment of its students, some more so than others. But it is not entirely at fault for the results of these decisions.
When embarking on new changes and endeavours, most will say it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver but it seems that UCD has taken to the contrary by over-promising and failing to deliver.
There was a whisper of arrogance in UCD rushing to promise students they will be able to attend in-person learning up to 40%-60% of the normal schedule at undergraduate level and the raised figure of 75%-100% at postgraduate level. These figures were revised in August to 30%-70% for undergraduates and 20%-86% for postgraduates.
Where did these figures come from? No one knows. But we believed the figures anyway because UCD showed us the glistening glamour of the greener grass that would bloom come September. Students took flights, buses, trains and cars to make it to Dublin, with scheduled time for the mandatory 14-day quarantine, of course. They signed leases and paid their dues to UCD’s already opulent bank accounts.
Now they sit in these accommodations alone, with a couple thousand less in their pockets, learning (or attempting to do so) through a screen. But learning through a screen isn’t the problem. It’s the overpromising, particularly to international students. Even more so, it’s the overpromising to meet UCD’s revenue targets. In UCD’s eyes, one international student means fees of anywhere between €19,900 and €53,000. Honesty means less.
It’s hard enough to pack up your bags, leave your family only to end up living by yourself in a completely new place. But college being shifted online is not what is being blamed here, that was undoubtedly a responsible decision. It’s the keeping students in the dark and then plunging them in the deep end.
UCD’s introduction of the 1-metre social-distancing rule which the university used to legitimise its random percentages of time to be spent on campus is not to be forgotten or overlooked. Realistically, it should have known that teaching with a 1-metre distance between students was careless and irresponsible amid a pandemic we are still trying to figure out. Newman’s Theatre L, which is UCD’s largest lecture theatre, sits 218 with 1-metre social distancing. With 2-metres, this capacity is reduced to 79.
It seems that UCD’s quality of communication is abhorrent but partially because it’s dependent on the government, which seems to be creating restrictions at its leisure. So we can cut the university some slack. But it could still do better. For example, not waiting 24 hours to issue official communication to students that their entire semester is on a virtual platform when university staff have already been informed via the President’s Bulletin.
Handling a pandemic is by no means an easy charge, but backed with the resources it is fortunate to have, UCD chose to not extend to its students, the common courtesy that is honesty. It will suffer under this crisis of Covid-19 too with projected losses of €100 million, but it won’t be forgotten that the decisions it made were to the detriment of those most vulnerable and dependent in the university.
The College Tribune commends the wider university community for its expeditious adaptation of online learning and teaching. It commends the efficient instalment of virtual technology and recognises the efforts of our lecturers, tutors and staff. The enthusiasm and passion of UCD’s student societies is also to be applauded. They are responsible for the fostering of any college community spirit which remains in this online world.
UCD’s handling of the pandemic will live on in the archives of The College Tribune for years to come. We’ll continue in keeping you informed in honesty and truth, whether UCD does or not.
The Editorial Team