As colleges plan ahead to the 2020/2021 academic year, it is looking increasingly likely that the conventional university teaching methods will not be able to take place when college begins again later this year. While this will impact all students, it causes a particular worry for students who normally are now finalising plans for student accommodation for the next academic year. These students face the dilemma of whether to secure accommodation now or wait until the clarity they so desperately need from colleges is provided.
Speaking on the ‘This Week’ show on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday, DCU President, Professor Brian McCraith, said “traditional booking of a year on-campus accommodation will not apply in the coming year.” Professor McCraith’s comments demonstrate the radically different circumstances in which college life will return to later this year. He also added that “it may come down to personal choice how long students decide to stay in accommodation.” The comments highlight a difficult choice may face students who have to weigh up the need to be attending college for just a short number of hours a week, with the cost of renting they would have to incur to do so.
It is highly likely that Ireland’s universities will have a similar plan for teaching in semester one for the next college year. According to IUA Director General Jim Miley, the likelihood that students will return to colleges including UCD next year for all lectures and tutorials is very low. Irish colleges are looking at the feasibility of a ‘hybrid’ form of learning with online lectures and a small number of tutorials and labs in person. While these colleges continue to explore their options, students are left in limbo in regard to their student accommodation needs.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has also called on colleges to “move quickly to provide clarity to students around accommodation issues.” Speaking about the concerns for students, USI president, Lorna Fitzpatrick, said students “really need to know what the new academic year is going to look like for them when it comes to on-campus activity versus online activity so they can make the best decision for them whether they need accommodation.”
Determining how learning can take place in over three months’ time is a difficult task for universities, however, given the accommodation concerns, they are under pressure to come up with their plans soon so students can prepare. In the meantime, students are receiving special discounts from student accommodation providers to commit to accepting lodgings for the academic year. USI has become increasingly concerned with these deals as they could make students face a much larger expense over the full year if college plans mean learning can be done remotely.
Also speaking on the programme, the CEO of the housing charity ‘Threshold,’ John-Mark McCafferty, recommended that students “do not enter into a tenancy agreement until you know whether attendance of campus is required.” He commented that these deals show that landlords are “concerned about their ability to get sufficient numbers of students into such accommodation.”
While these deals may be a risk to many students considering accommodation, they represent the difficulties faced by these students who are left in limbo as university authorities struggle to provide the best mode of learning to students in the upcoming academic year whilst prioritising student health and safety.
Conor Paterson – Reporter