Numbers seem to be everywhere these days. Be it the latest dosage of discovered coronavirus cases, the oft-repeated 2 metre mantra of social distancing or whatever that ‘R number’ claims to be (search me – I was a veteran of the back row in maths). But there is one number I do understand and if you’re a UCD student or just someone who cares about their physical wellbeing – you should too. That number is €100,000,000. Those nine figures represent the financial blackhole faced by UCD for the upcoming year because of COVID-19 and what students will pay for not just from their pockets, but from their physical and mental wellbeing.
Since we’re already talking numbers – here’s some more. Most of that €100 million can be chalked up to deflated international student numbers which remain the bread and butter of the University’s revenue stream. Just one international undergraduate student can rein in fees of anywhere between €19,900 and €53,000 depending on the programme. A cursory glance at what domestic/EU students bring to the table – €3000 – should give you a fair indication of where UCD focuses its marketing efforts. And although students have been expected to swallow the doublethink that ‘UCD markets an education and not an experience’ this exercise has been increasingly hard to sustain in the wake of recent COVID-19 headlines.
Undergraduates can now expect 30-70% in person class time amended from 40-60%, with graduates facing 20-86% down from 75-100%. That is of course with masks at the ready and 1m social distancing. Or are those measures just for medicine students? Truth is I can’t be certain because no calculations or reasoning was provided to back up these percentages. But there is certainty in their efforts to attract international students at any cost. Forging on full steam ahead to offset that €100 million deficit appears to be the overriding objective. Murmurings of “overpromising” on the behalf of academic staff be damned.
But where amongst the figures are the supports for these students? Faced with an academic year of social distancing, ‘bubbles’ and isolation, loneliness and depression which is already commonplace amongst the 16-24 year old cohort, has all the chances of being as contagious as the pandemic itself. Where does a first year student, fresh off the plane, go when faced with that inevitable bout of homesickness compounded by mandatory quarantines and socially distanced orientation? What can they expect from a university that has totted up the numbers and arrived at it not being economically viable to hire additional on-campus counselling staff to cope with increased demand?
One way of ameliorating all this uncertainty is for UCD to engage with students in an open and honest dialogue. Inform them of the risks involved in attending lectures and tutorials, what safety measures are in place for commuting, how are immunocompromised students or those with disabilities accommodated within these guidelines and so on. And in mentioning honesty and openness I mean the exact opposite of the recent debacle that was the ‘no disadvantage’ grading policy. A policy which ironically disadvantaged more students than it helped. As a student, witnessing words like “betrayal” and “failure” thrown around in talks between university management and SU representatives does not inspire confidence.
The simple fact is students don’t expect all that much. Honesty on behalf of UCD upper management would go a long way in dispelling the frustration and anxiety many students are feeling for September. Another thing about honesty? It’s free.
Rowan Kelleher – Assistant News Editor