Life at University College Dublin will be remarkably unusual for students in the upcoming academic year, as staff, lecturers, clubs, societies, and the government try to implement new public health restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is everything we know so far about what college life will be like this September.
In The Classroom
With Social Distancing remaining a key component of the pandemic regulations, uncertainty remains around how students will learn in September. Back in May, we learned that classes are set to recommence on the 21st of September. To reduce numbers physically present on campus at any time, lectures will be pre-recorded or streamed live on Brightspace, timetables may be revised to schedule hours outside of 9am-6pm, and Saturday classes may be introduced. According to a report drawn up by the University Management Team and circulated to UCD staff in May, UCD plans to minimise physical mixing between students by placing students into “pods” with those that share “significant portions of the [same] timetable”.
Continuous assessment will be used “to the greatest extent possible”, with no exams taking place in the RDS this Autumn.
Floor markings in corridors, social distance markers around floors and desks, one-way systems coming in and out of buildings may be introduced in campus buildings. Students that have laboratories must use physical distancing and wear PPE equipment where necessary.
On the 8th of July, UCD announced in an email to students that undergraduates would ideally attend between 40 and 60% of their classes in the Autumn Trimester in person. However, a confidential academic source told The College Tribune earlier this month that this figure was unlikely. The source said that their School was planning around 30% of classes being in person or as little as zero in-person classes.
An open letter from the Students’ Union on July 15th expressed scepticism about the figures, saying students from the Professional Masters in Social Work were informed that only 20% of their classes would be on campus. This is far from the 75-100% of classes Graduate students were told they would have. UCDSU asked for clarification on how the figures were arrived at and what students could really expect this coming semester, but they are yet to receive updated information.
In line with the current government roadmap to reopening, Phase 4 (which would have allowed indoor gatherings of up to 100 people) has been paused and the country remains in Phase 3. Phase 3 allows indoor gatherings of up to 50 people which would greatly limit in-person class sizes.
Getting to Belfield
With UCD promising that traffic on campus will be maximised, the question of how students will get to and from campus with current regulations is significant. According to the Dublin Bus website, capacity is about 37 people on double-decker buses with masks being mandatory. However, if campus traffic is as much as the University is promising, current Public Transport capacity may not be enough. Phase 3 and 4 of the government’s reopening plans keep social distancing measures on Public Transport in place. With bus capacity reduced significantly there will be a need for a higher frequency of those servicing routes to UCD – even with the reduced campus traffic. As students have not yet received concrete information on hours for in-person learning, we cannot definitively say that there will be reliable public transportation to campus.
UCD Sports Development Manager & Athletic Union Council (AUC) Executive Secretary, Suzanne Bailey, previously told The College Tribune that “before UCD clubs are permitted to recommence activity they are required to complete a revised risk assessment outlining how they will implement the return to play protocols of their sport in a UCD context. This risk assessment must be approved by the University.”
Many clubs which operate year-round have already commenced training, with the Boat Clubs and Swimming Clubs returning to activity as of July 1st. Bailey’s statement noted that the Athletics Club, Soccer Club and Rugby Club were due to restart training throughout July.
James Barden, Captain of UCD Fencing Club, described to us the Club’s plans to adhere to public health guidelines: “There will be sanitiser and masks, and contact tracing. We advocate for our members to use the government issued app and have our own forms to be filled in.” Club training sessions will have limited numbers, with training sessions being split into multiple slots per week to reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus.
The UCD Sport Centre has been open since early July. Students must complete a “Covid Declaration” in order to access the facilities. Members must fully sanitise gym equipment after use, a strict “no towel, no entry” policy is in place for fitness classes, and the capacity for the main pool has been reduced to 60.
Societies have not yet heard from officials regarding how they will operate in the coming year subject to COVID-19 restrictions. Speaking to The College Tribune, societies such as Science Society and the Commerce & Economics (C&E) Society say they expect to run many of their events online from September.
Auditor of Science Soc, Owen Johnson, explained his concerns to us, saying – “Our two big events, the Sci-cle and the Science Ball, are the events we are most concerned with as they are the main source of income for our Crumlin donation. We are thinking about putting the Sci-cle later back in semester two around Easter time. In regards to the Science ball … if the number is capped we will be prioritizing fourth years for attendance.”
The C&E Society informed us of their appointment of a “Covid Officer” to ensure the safety of all members and is preparing to “postpone or redesign [events] to be online.”
The National Picture
Irish universities are adopting a hybrid learning approach for at least the Autumn trimester, delivering lectures through a blend of online and on-campus classes.
The University of Limerick is reducing physical contact hours to just 25% for some students, with year groups returning to campus for just one week per month, whilst Maynooth University has confirmed that their September and October Conferring ceremonies will be held virtually.
Ann Jaffray, Reporter
Nessa Collins, Reporter