Third Level Colleges Moved to Level 3

By Steven Galvin - Last update

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Following the government’s announcement on Friday afternoon that all universities and Institutes of Technology be placed at Level 3 of the Covid-19 alert framework for up to three weeks, concerns have been expressed over the short time students and colleges have to adapt to the restrictions .

While colleges themselves will remain open with all lectures and most tutorials being delivered online, all social activities on campus have been suspended.

Jim Miley, Director General of the Irish Universities Association and Lorna Fitzpatrick, President of the Union of Students in Ireland, appeared on RTE radio to discuss the reopening of universities under level 3 restrictions and what options are available to students. The discussion revolved around two major concerns: accommodation and connectivity

Lorna Fitzpatrick, President of the Union of Students in Ireland expressed concern that the decision had come so late. In reality, some students had already started back in college last week and thousands more were due to start back today. Being given 3 days notice obviously isn’t ideal and has left a lot of students in limbo. That being said, the Union of Students in Ireland made it clear that students’ safety is their main priority and they will and always have supported  public health advice. 

But one of the main concerns due to the lateness of the announcement is issues around students who have already signed into leases and contracts for accommodation. Students may have signed into contracts thinking they would be on campus over the coming weeks. Also there’s the risk that these measures could be extended. Issues such as prepaid rent need to be addressed.

The second concern is in relation to connectivity. Research undertaken in June by the IUA demonstrated that connectivity and access to devices are a major concern for students. While funding was provided by Minister Harris to purchase laptops and has been very welcomed, there are still logistics to be worked out about how the devices actually get to students if they’re not on campus. But it is issues of connectivity that are of particular concern.

Indeed, connectivity and accommodation overlap as a concern as there can be issues for students not being able to access the online tutorials and modules simply because they don’t have sufficient broadband. Many Irish homes are still struggling with poor internet connectivity 

So the question arises, what should students do if they have secured accommodation either on campus or close to the campus, should they move there rather than staying at home if it means better access online?

Jim Miley, Director General of the Irish Universities Association said that government advice is to avoid student movement where possible. He insisted that colleges are responding. Some universities have already provided flexible one or two-night booking options for students, others have done deals with local hotels for special student rates. 

Jim pointed out that on-campus accommodation accounts for less than 10% of the total accommodation. So the real challenge is dealing with private accommodations and suppliers of this. He told listeners that Minister Simon Harris has agreed to meet with college leadership early this week so that they can discuss what the picture might look like in the coming weeks and bring some level of certainty or at least “reduce the uncertainty” for students in the weeks ahead.

With some universities back in action last week, there will be some students already on campus or in private accommodation. Should they stay there?

Lorna Fitzpatrick, President of the Union of Students in Ireland reiterated the advise to minimise travel as much as possible to help limit the spread of this virus. So if a student is due to start college this week and has secured accommodation or started last week and was already in their accommodation, they really need to consider whether they need to travel and if they would be better off staying at home. Lorna added that  “The one thing we are sure about with this virus is that there is so much uncertainty and we don’t know what’s coming down the road. We don’t know if there are going to be higher levels of restrictions imposed in certain areas” so the advice coming from the Union of Students in Ireland is that “it’s up to individuals to think about would they be happiest to stay in the area that their student accommodation is in for a period of a couple of weeks if areas are moved to higher levels of restrictions  where they’re not supposed to leave the county or leave the town. It is about ensuring students have the opportunity to be in a place where they feel safe and happy and I think it’s up to every individual student to try and consider that.”

But if you haven’t travelled the advice the Union of Students in Ireland  is following is not to, if you can avoid travelling at all. But there may be a number of things people need to take into consideration in their own personal circumstances. 

While there is no protection in place for students who had already paid for accommodation but will not be using it while Level 3 restrictions are in place, let’s hope that many follow and improve upon the example set by University of Limerick, who earlier today announced that students will receive a partial refund for on-campus accommodation if they choose to put off moving in for the next two weeks due to the updated Government instructions for third level institutions.

Steven Galvin

A Safe Return to Campus
College, Covid & Mental Health


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