As the pandemic worsens across Europe, winter is beginning to look bleak. There’s potential for our healthcare system to crumble at the sheer volume of inpatients and NPHET – along with our government – are on high alert. As the rest of Dublin county sits on level 3 of lockdown, UCD is operating at a level 4. Recently agreed IUA guidelines have also suggested that all universities operate at a minimum of a level 3 across the country, sending many courses online for the foreseeable future. There are some outliers, but by and large, it seems that colleges will end up mostly or fully online. None of this is made any easier by UCD’s ineptitude when it comes to communication and their consistent laissez-faire approach to student issues.
Students have been left in an untenable position. They were told that UCD is a “campus-based university”, and undergraduates were promised 40-60% in-class time. This was quickly followed up by a much more vague offering of 30-70% in-class time. Once timetables were sent out, students in some schools realised that they had to try and juggle online classes followed by face to face classes only minutes later. Decreased library seats meant that they would also be required to find a place somewhere on campus in order to tune in for an entire lecture.
Prior to the commencement of semester 1, it is understandable that students would have sought out accommodation, especially those living on the other side of the country. I know UCD students in Tipperary, Galway, Kilkenny, and many more counties, and all of them tried desperately to find accommodation in Dublin. Many of them failed. I’m sure this is a situation that many can relate to, and it’s primarily because of landlords who are afraid of taking on students that may want to cancel their leases early as a result of rising COVID-19 infections. Those who did not find accomodation in Dublin now don’t know if they should, and those who did find accommodation in Dublin are beginning to regret it.
All of this is thanks to UCD’s lack of communication and, if I’m honest, promises that they had no guarantee of fulfilling. It was not possible for UCD to claim that students would have 30-70% of class time, as clearly shown, and students are understandably perturbed that they sought accommodation in the expectation that they would have in-person classes. Ambitions to effectively promise students that they would have, at minimum, 30% of their usual class time seemed incredibly optimistic even at the time. This is not a criticism of the public health measures that are in place, but a criticism of UCD’s lack of clear communication. UCD even announced a change of registration date on their Twitter account, however an email was not sent out to students when the tweet was posted. While I actively use Twitter, I know many do not.
The cynic in me says that much of this could well be attributed to malice. UCD has a vested interest in students renting out its own accommodation. I can understand suspicions of self-interest given it has cost the University upwards of €80 million to build new residences between November 2016 and March of this year. A year without tenants would wreak havoc on the financials of UCD, as I’m fairly certain that the multi-year plan the University set out for building new accommodation did not account for a global pandemic to force Universities into exclusively-online teaching.
But the worst offence of all isn’t the encouragement of students to rent accommodation for nothing, nor is it the practically impossible-to-keep assurances that were given to students… It’s the lack of communication with students ever since the University has gone online. Why is it that a third-party, non-college-affiliated newspaper needs to break the news that multiple schools of the University will not be returning to campus? Why is it that, if those decisions have been made, students have not been notified? This is a disgrace on UCD’s part. Students who have moved up to Dublin will no doubt begin to feel the tides shift, and with no sign of numbers declining, anxiety will set in. Renting in Dublin is expensive, especially when you have no reason to be there in the first place. For those who are still seeking accomodation, they have been left on the ropes to decide whether or not they should continue.
When it comes to classes themselves, many lecturers are not exactly accommodating either. Many are clearly unhappy hosting online lectures and are willing to do the bare minimum and nothing more. Ireland’s broadband infrastructure is incredibly poor, and I am unable to consistently tune into live lectures on my home broadband. However, despite this clear limitation of Ireland’s infrastructure through no fault of my own, I am unable to participate in live classes. Some lecturers upload recordings after the fact that I can leave downloading over several hours, but many do not, and will not.
UCD has failed students, and students still remain in the dark. There is no information, there is no roadmap, and there is no help. If you try to reach out to UCD you’ll get a canned response relating to level 3 lockdowns and how the University currently intends to open up should the county drop down to level 2. Most lecturers are no-more privy to information than we are, and the few that are in the know have, by and large, kept the information to themselves. Something needs to change, and the ball is entirely in UCD’s court.
Adam Conway – Reporter