Students at the University of Limerick (UL) will return to campus for just one week a month in an effort to minimise the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.
First year students will be allowed on campus for four weeks out of the twelve-week semester, whilst all other students, including postgraduates, will only return for three weeks.
In an email issued to students on July 8th, Professor Kerstin Mey, who has now been named as interim President of UL for the next 18 months, explained the rationale behind the university’s decision to adopt a blended learning approach next semester, saying – “This approach, including on-campus and online learning, minimises the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak by using social bubbles (keeping years of groups together) and a circuit breaker (periods off campus) based on scientific insight into the spread of the virus”. Professor Mey is the first woman to hold the position of university President in Ireland.
The announcement revealed that even during an on-campus week, students will still have online lectures due to space constraints created by physical distancing requirements. Face-to-face teaching for labs and tutorials will be delivered for up to 3 hours per week for students.
The Autumn semester will commence on September 28th. Priority will be given to students accessing educational facilities during their scheduled on-campus weeks, including the library and other study areas.
All Erasmus programmes have also been cancelled for the Autumn semester in UL. Clinical placements and school placements are still expected to take place.
The significant reduction in physical contact hours to just 25% for some students contrasts drastically to other universities’ plans. University College Dublin expects to maintain 40%-60% of regular hours for undergraduates, whilst Maynooth University envisages students will be on campus for 50% of the standard timetable.
Students have condemned the university’s decision to substantially decrease the number of hours spent learning on campus.
Sinead, a 2nd year Biology and Physics with Concurrent Teacher Education student, told The College Tribune that she feels her education will suffer as a result of online learning, saying – “Online learning isn’t sufficient. I’m supposed to be learning how to teach people and an online education won’t provide me with the level of education I need to educate our youth.”
UL have not yet announced what they expect rental accommodation will look like due to physical distancing measures, or if rental fees will be reduced. Students are dissatisfied at the prospect of paying full fees for accommodation whilst only being on campus for a quarter of the semester.
Sinead criticised the lack of communication from the university regarding rental accommodation: “It’s difficult for me to decide whether I should get my accommodation or not.”
Another student condemned UL’s email, telling The College Tribune that “UL adopting the approach of blended learning with on campus engagement limited to one in four weeks will make it very difficult to fully engage with learning”.
The student added, “UL just seem to be making it up as they go along, which I believe will have detrimental effects to students’ ability to grasp material and also the overall college experience, from peer interaction to the use of on campus facilities”.
In response to students’ dissatisfaction at the new measures, Alan Owens, Communications Officer at UL, told The College Tribune that: “It has been well flagged in advance that it was likely that only a certain percentage or cohort of students may be able to be on campus and access the educational facilities at any one time”
“All decisions have been taken in line with the government’s public health guidelines, the requirement for social distancing and to prevent the spread of infection and keep the campus – and wider – community safe”, he concluded.
Nessa Collins – Reporter