University College Dublin’s (UCD) plan for undergraduate students to attend between 40 and 60% of their classes in the Autumn Trimester may not reflect the reality for many students, according to numerous academic sources within the university.

Speaking confidentially to The College Tribune, one academic said the figure for their School will likely be as much as 30% and as little as zero in-person attendance for certain stages and programmes. According to this source, some Schools have subjects that may be taught entirely online for a particular year group in Trimester 1.

It is understood that this information was known by UCD when the 40 to 60% figure was announced.

Another academic told The College Tribune, that their School’s in-person classes would not come close to the university’s target. The source indicated that in-person core module lectures would be severely limited, with some students in that School receiving as little as 10% of normal face-to-face learning. Students may receive between one and four in-person sessions in Trimester 1 per core module. Optional modules will have almost no in-person elements.

According to academic sources, students will be left with significantly less face-to-face interaction this coming Trimester, likely less than university management is aiming for.


A High Target

On July 8th, students were updated on UCD’s preparations for the upcoming Trimester by the Registrar and Deputy President Mark Rogers. He said in an email to students: “We expect, complying with public health guidelines, that most undergraduate students will be in classrooms around 40-60% of the normal schedule, with most graduate students having between 75 and 100% of normal classroom time.”

Further emphasising this target, Dean of Graduate Studies Professor Barbara Dooley told RTÉ last week that this figure would reflect a “balance” across the university.

Speaking to The College Tribune, a number of academic sources have expressed doubt as to whether their School’s arrangement will reflect this for undergraduate students.

Speaking to The College Tribune, College Principal and Dean of Engineering Aoife Ahern said this figure is what UCD “hopes to achieve for most students.” She emphasised that there will be “variability across Colleges and within Colleges”, going on to say that programmes in the College of Engineering and Architecture “have been able to achieve very high percentages whilst others have found it more difficult.”

Professor Ahern explained that a working group comprised of Heads of Schools, Deans, Associate Deans, a number of School nominees, consulted to “maximise contact hours with students on all programmes in the College while complying with public health guidelines.”


“Over Ambitious”

In a statement on Wednesday, UCD Students’ Union (SU) President Conor Anderson called the proposed percentages of face-to-face learning an “exaggeration” and “over ambitious”. Anderson said the university has made the move “in the hopes of attracting international students and filling on campus accommodation. This, alongside plans to increase both fees and the number of enrolled students, belies a total lack of concern for student welfare and the public good.”

Anderson concluded that UCD should be “completely transparent” with prospective students and to respond to the SU’s requests for clarification on the matter. “Students deserve to make informed decisions on whether they will need accommodation near campus or if it will be safe to return to campus, and if they should travel from abroad to UCD.”

UCDSU Welfare Officer Ruairí Power wrote to Deputy President and Registrar Prof Mark Rogers to seek clarification on what health advice informed the university’s decision. Power also asked if Schools have indicated they can cater for face-to-face delivery of 40-60% of classes, sources speaking to The College Tribune have been highly sceptical of. Power confirmed to The College Tribune that Prof Rogers did not directly respond to these questions, which he found “concerning”.

In another open letter to Prof Rogers on Thursday, UCDSU said they were “extremely concerned” that IFUT were not consulted when the targets for reopening of campus for students were formulated. Signed by all Sabbatical Officers of the SU, the organisation repeated all questions from Power’s previous letter, saying that Prof Rogers “failed to address any of the specific concerns raised in the initial correspondence.”

IFUT has been engaging with UCD in “high-level discussions” since early June, but the organisation has yet to receive solid plans from the university and be assured that staff and student health and welfare will be protected under proposed measures.

The university is planning a phased return to face-to-face teaching, based on prevailing national health guidelines throughout Trimester 1, but it is not yet clear whether in-person teaching will increase throughout the Autumn period.

UCD now expects the 2m social distancing measure will be reduced to 1m for universities from September. Sources suggest that academic staff are nervous about health implications for themselves and their students.

UCD have not responded to requests to explain what health advice informed these recent decisions, and requests for general comments, by the time of publishing.