The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has warned that autumn 2020 could bring “enrolment chaos” for colleges around the country, and called for funding pledges from the government to protect a sector facing financial turmoil due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The union’s intervention comes as Ireland’s higher education institutes battle to put in place academic and teaching structures that will allow students to return to college – or begin it – despite the ongoing threat of the virus.
Joan Donegan, the general secretary of IFUT, said in a press statement that students and staff “are being left in ongoing limbo” about the next academic year due to a lack of government direction, and warned: “There is an increasing risk that many students will opt out of or defer college.”
“Over 40,000 students hoping to enter third-level and up to 200,000 students already in the system have currently no idea on when and under what conditions colleges will reopen”, Donegan said. “A process of consultation is urgently required.”
The union said the government must offer a “roadmap” for how national restrictions on movement, in place to inhibit the spread of the coronavirus, will affect in-person teaching next year.
And Donegan said a lack of clarity from the Department of Education means casual and part-time staff are being left in the dark about their employment status, as well as leaving unanswered the question of how long “always-on” teaching arrangements will continue.
“IFUT is committed to working with the Department of Education, universities, students and all other stakeholders to find and agree solutions to the issues now facing thousands of staff and tens of thousands of young people”, Donegan said.
Last week, this newspaper reported that Trinity is considering moving large lectures online for the first semester of next year, with the return of some face-to-face teaching potentially pushed back until as late as January 2021.
At a meeting of College Board last week, Vice-Provost Jurgen Barkhoff outlined a number of plans Trinity is weighing up – including the possibility of conducting teaching for large classes online, three members of Board told The University Times.
The members of Board, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to reveal the contents of sensitive discussions, said conversations also took place around when first-year students will begin College, with early November pinpointed as their likely start date.
Trinity declined to comment when approached with questions by The University Times.
Meanwhile, NUI Galway President Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh today told students that returning students will start next year on September 28th, with incoming first years set to begin in November.
Changes to the academic year will likely mean next year’s Christmas exams don’t take place until January 2021.