Due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, most leaving cert students will defer college places this year, according to an unpublished report from the HEA.
The report from May 2020 cites many reasons as to why a mass student deferment will take place, according to The Irish Times on Wednesday. Online classes, families losing employment, and a lack of summer job opportunities are among reasons that higher education may seem unviable to many outgoing secondary students this year.
Student recruitment from institutes of technology or PLC courses to universities will be prevented, and colleges may be given caps on how many students they can take on. This is also acting as a deterrent for students looking to gain entry to university level education through recruitment.
A further problem for universities is the disruption to travel, which will see an 80% drop in new international students, with a further 20% drop in current international students choosing to remain in their home countries.
Colleges will also have a major task in dealing with social distancing regulations when on-campus learning is resumed. The report suggests that lecture halls will have to operate at 10% capacity. For example, Theatre L in UCD’s Newman building would only allow for 50 people in a 500-capacity lecture hall. Similarly, L023 in Sutherland would be working off 30 people in a theatre a designed for 300.
The reported limited capacity number would most likely force lectures and events held by UCD online.
Dire Financial Consequences
The HEA report describes the financial consequences as “immense” for higher education. A shortfall of around 500 million is expected within higher education institutions over the next two years.
The report states that a significant government bailout package is vital to ensure “a strong, well-resourced higher education system to meet the evolving social and economic challenges faced in Ireland and internationally and our higher education institutions are well placed to play a pivotal role in our economic recovery.”
However, according to The Irish Times a leaked document from the department of education suggests that such intervention may be withheld. The government document says that there is “no commitment or expectation of additional funding for the education sector at the present time”.
This is due to the HEA report “not providing the level of granularity required to make an informed and evidenced-based funding and budgetary decisions.” The government further claim that some of the support that the HEA are seeking is related to “non-core and commercial activities.”
The HEA are facing challenges on both their student and financial front, with the easing of restrictions and Ireland now on the back end of the Covid-19 curve, questions remain about how higher education will deal with student capacities and how far the government will go in aiding such institutions.
Luke Murphy – Reporter