Third-level colleges are being advised to increase the amount of on-campus activity for first-year students due to concerns that significant numbers of students are dropping out or disengaging from courses this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Almost all university teaching and learning has taken place online this year due to public health restrictions with only a small number of activities allowed to continue in-person – such as laboratory work and other practicals.

As a result, there are concerns this will result in mass disengagement and dropping out by first-year students, due to a lack of social interaction and peer supports. Normally, there is a non-completion rate of 1 in every 5 students, however, it is feared this number may rise dramatically in the coming academic semester.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, has stated: “My priority going into the new year will be in increasing on-campus activity as much as we can and as safely as we can.” He continued, “I would like to see some more on-site activity for first and final-year students. We have started these discussions with colleges and it is my view we need to provide certainty as soon as is possible.”

While it is clear that the remainder of this semester will continue online, it is unclear as to the position with regards to next semester. However, despite no official guidance from the government, universities such as Dublin City University and the University of Limerick, have announced plans to continue online learning for the remainder of the academic year.

UCD announced that they would also be continuing with online learning in the sprint trimester this morning, Tuesday 11th of November, after a number of weeks of uncertainty.

While it may still be impossible to host large-scale lectures, Mr. Harris has voiced his intention to “create new ways to promote small-scale, in-person contact, especially peer engagement”. This would allow students to experience the social aspect of college while simultaneously reducing the risk.

Adam Doyle – Reporter