University staff have been vocal about the need for clarity in the reopening strategy for universities with the start of term drawing closer. 

The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) have said they need clarity on the plans for reopening as in-person classes will return along with online options. The Spring semester had teachers dealing with an emergency situation of remote teaching. IFUT General Secretary Joan Donegan said that “it will not be possible to sustain such an ‘emergency’ mode approach for a full academic year.”

Speaking to The College Tribune, IFUT branch chair for UCD Emma Sokell said that the “situation was changing”, which makes it difficult for members to figure out what is planned. According to Sokell, “what everybody wants… is the best experience for students – making it as safe and sustainable as it can be.” She said, “gatherings are at a number of 50 at the moment and that is the number we will be operating with at the start of term.” With numbers in gatherings restricted UCD says “On-campus teaching” will include activities such as seminars, small group sessions and practical elements of courses. It may also include lectures where the class size permits.

When asked if university teachers had received clarification on whether social distancing would be 1 metre or 2 metres, Sokell said, “the government guidelines are 2 metres and 1 metre would be an exception – but those are open to interpretation.” She also said, “I understand the university timetable at the moment is saying 1 metre.” Some UCD School websites are saying that 2 metre social distancing should be in place “as much as possible” 

When asked about teachers who may not be able to teach in-person, Sokell said, “We know things are being worked on, but it isn’t actually out there yet”. She also reiterated that while we are still a few weeks from the start of term, things may change. She also told The College Tribune that UCD has said they would provide PPE if teachers asked: “You can request a pack and it’s given to staff…As it stands there is nothing to suggest stuff won’t be provided with what they need.”

Sokell also said that teachers had been given the opportunity to voice their concerns during the drafting of the reopening strategy: “In fairness to UCD we have been involved… The university has a Covid Committee.” She emphasised that there “has been communication with staff” when it comes to drafting reopening measures. 

When asked about wider issues with reopening, Sokell said staff share the concern of transport as society reopens with capacity and social distancing restrictions still being in place. When asked about the student concern of fees, Sokell said that the higher education sector has been “systematically underfunded for such a long time… almost to the point of collapse…with COVID on top of that” but that the “university should be accessible.” She hopes, however, that the creation of a higher education department will help with the funding issues.

Ann Jaffray – Reporter