NUI Galway (NUIG) has backtracked on the introduction of a mandatory student health pledge. The College is now encouraging students to sign a “voluntary public commitment”.

The pledge would have required students to compulsorily sign a declaration that they adhere to all COVID-19 related public health guidelines as a condition of the registration process. Breaches of the guidelines may constitute an act of misconduct and be subject to university disciplinary processes. 

Speaking to The College Tribune, the President of NUIG Student Union, Pádraic Toomey, welcomed the reversal stating that, “from what we understood it just never should have been mandatory in the first place” and that it is now “nothing more than an opt-in thing which is kind of more what we’re happy with – it’s a choice rather than signing your life away.” 

Asked what reasoning NUIG had given for this change in policy, Toomey responded: “I think they were not one hundred percent sure what the plan was for this pledge, it was very much of a PR thing to give people peace of mind to tell people that they were planning for the academic year” and “when they were pressed on actually the details of it, I feel like they had to do what the public wanted which was for it not to be mandatory – to be more of a sign of goodwill”. 

Commenting on the pledge’s mixed reception amongst students, Toomey attributes this to poor timing on NUIG’s behalf in releasing the pledge at the same time students were outraged at the delay in releasing timetables: “To someone who wasn’t paying too much attention it sounded like this was what they were working on, they were working on a new way for you to sign something rather than actually giving me a timetable which actually would give me the time to know how much time I have on-campus or if I can get a part-time job and such”. 

When contacted for comment, an NUIG spokesperson responded that, “The University is working with experts in behavioural change as part of planning for reopening the campus. Voluntary public commitments are a powerful approach to bring about lasting change and as a result the Cúram dá Chéile community promise is separate to registration”. NUIG will be “creating a roll of honour for students and staff to sign up to and we know the majority of our community want to commit to their health”. And that the University “expects” its students and staff to adhere to all COVID-19 related guidelines to limit its spread on-campus. The Spokesperson also added that, “There is a duty on all of us to abide by public health guidelines, and possible breaches of NUI Galway and public health guidelines related to reducing the spread of Covid-19 will be considered if necessary, under University policy, which provides for fair procedure and due process”.

University College Dublin (UCD) has introduced a mandatory COVID-19 student health declaration to which students must agree in order to register for the upcoming academic year. The Declaration states that as a student, you will follow both government and UCD COVID-19 health guidelines. It also requires students to observe that these guidelines may change over time and that it is their responsibility to keep up with the latest information.

Rowan Kelleher – Assistant News Editor