Third-level Blended Learning – Urgent Clarity Needed

The announcement of specific funding to support third-level institutions to reopen is a positive one. However, students are still ‘in the dark’ about how blended learning will work.

I am particularly glad to see funding for laptops. This is, at least, a recognition that many students have been excluded by remote learning because they do not have access to computers. However, the issue of many students not having internet connectivity at home still needs to be addressed.

Successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments have underfunded universities for over a decade. Third-level institutions are given 50 percent less funding per student than in 2008. This has forced universities, in particular, to find alternative sources of income from the private sector. Those sources of income have vanished overnight with the outbreak of Covid-19. International fees alone are estimated to go down by EUR 181 million.

Third-level institutions do need support and I am glad to see action being taken, though there will need to be development and placed on a permanent basis.

Now we need action on guidelines for students returning in September. Students are still in the dark about how the return to campus life will be managed.

There is still no guidance from the government on what is going to happen come September for third-level students and their families.

At the moment, we have a situation where students and parents do not even know if they are required to be on campus every week, every second day, every second week. No one can make plans with such uncertainty about basic issues.

This means that students cannot plan for accommodation, travel, part-time work, etc.

Individual third-level institutions have stepped in and started announcing different plans for the return of students. While they had no choice in the absence of government direction, this has caused confusion. The Government or Higher Education Authority need to consult with third-level institutions, staff and student unions regarding issuing guidelines that comply with medical advice.

Third-level students cannot continue to be ignored.