Life in Dublin 4 regained some normality over the course of September as many students returned to Belfield lecture halls for the first time in over 18 months. However, there are a number of changes to life on University College Dublin’s (UCD) campus given the current restrictions such as mandatory mask-wearing and the pre-booking of facilities being essential. Another change that has been introduced on campus in recent weeks is the heightened presence of security in and around campus accommodation. The main purpose of this policy is to control the number of students being granted access to on-campus residences.
This is a deeply contentious issue amongst campus residents, with many left feeling this move could have a negative impact on their college experience. UCD students already face some of the highest accommodation fees in the country, with rents in some instances reaching as high as €1250 per month. This economic cost in many people’s eyes entitles students to at least voice their concerns about this policy. From the college’s perspective, they want to keep large gatherings and physical contact to a minimum to help prevent any COVID-19 outbreaks. The College Tribune contacted the Merville Office to comment on this issue but was declined.
Although this policy of policing entry into residences has been ushered in under the guise of public safety, many students feel this is a policy they have wanted to introduce for a number of years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, as it is believed UCD wishes to prevent large gatherings where alcohol is present and the school’s reputation could possibly be ‘diminished’. One student who lives on campus stated that they found it very difficult to even be allowed to bring a parent with them to help them move in. This policy seems to be a blanket ban on any outside visitors, something which is at odds with current public health advice on offer from the Government and NPHET.
Despite the pandemic, there is a sizeable cohort of the student body who view this potential policy as heavy-handed in nature. The vast majority of students are now vaccinated, with 85% of the 18-25 age group receiving at least one dose as of the 30th of August. To limit the movements of students who are in an extremely low-risk category and who have also been vaccinated seems to be an excessive piece of policy implementation. Students have also been some of the hardest-hit socially in terms of the pandemic, with the majority having been chained to zoom lectures for the past 18 months, sacrificing their social primes for the safety of wider society. Therefore, given the limited social lives, many students have led over the last year and a half, coupled with the rapid reopening of Irish society as a whole, we should not seek to further restrain students. Instead, we should afford them the opportunity to act in a responsible manner in which we trust that they will adhere to government guidelines and treat them as the adults they are – the adults UCD must view them as given the rental prices they charge.
A key aspect of a normal college experience is the social growth a student undergoes during their time on campus. Students interact with people from a wide variety of clubs, societies, courses and even countries. This melting pot of social interaction is central to forming a complete ‘college experience’. With the implementation of this policy, a student’s ability to socialise is severely stunted. Another student, who is in the second year of their degree, stated that the lack of ‘out of lecture’ interaction was affecting their ability to get to know people on their course properly. This is an issue particularly pertinent to second year students, as they find themselves nearly halfway through a degree without having met their course in person due to the roll out of online learning during the last academic year.
It is clear that the university has implemented this policy of security controlling entry to accommodation in good faith, attempting to safeguard the health and wellbeing of on-campus residents. However, given the majority of students’ reactions and the current public health advice, it seems that the policy is outdated and needs to be urgently revisited by the powers that be in Belfield so that students’ college experiences aren’t unnecessarily adversely impacted upon.
Rory Fleming – Politics Writer