The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has called for a clear set of guidelines to be published for third level institutions if there is a return to face-to-face learning in the new year. This follows the Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris’ wish for first and final year students to spend more time on campus in an attempt to decrease drop-out rates.

IFUT claims that in the absence of a single plan universities and third-level institutions will descend into “confusion and chaos” whilst preparing to resume in-person teaching. According to the federation’s general secretary, Joan Donegan, the main issue is that universities are devising contradictory measures regarding social distancing.

“It is simply not acceptable that some colleges are now proposing a two-metre distance, others advocate one-metre while others define distance on a ‘nose-to-nose’ basis reducing separation still further.”

Donegan acknowledged the longing to return to an on-campus education but maintained that the wellbeing of staff and students was the priority and that nobody should be “exposed to inferior health and safety protection due to lack of clear minimum requirements at national level.” She continued by stating that health and safety in colleges was “not an aspiration” and that any flexibilities allowed to individual institutions must be secondary to national requirements.

Minister Harris met with the presidents of higher-level institutions and student representatives last week to discuss a possible solution. Small-scale events were proposed, which would allow students to properly meet their peers.

“It has to be about welfare, well-being and the first-year student sitting at home at the kitchen table or in the box room of a house who has not been on campus. If it is safe to get such students there for some activity and engagement, there would be a great benefit, although we have to manage it carefully and do so in line with public health advice.”

Harris continued that there was intense enthusiasm from all presidents and representatives involved but that ultimately the safety of staff and students would be at the heart of any decisions made.

UCD announced earlier this month that online teaching will continue in the Spring Trimester. The College Tribune reported that classes will continue to be delivered remotely in the new year with limited activity permitted on-campus. Students who are currently required to attend classes on-campus ‘should plan’ to continue their attendance in the next trimester.

Emma Hanrahan – Assistant News Editor