Writes Ciara Browne
In line with the government guidelines, UCC is reopening its gates on 13th September. The minister of Higher and Further Education has stated in the Irish times, he is excited about the reopening of college campuses. Simon Harris has stated that Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has endorsed the plan for students to return safely to campuses. Mr Harris has said after meeting with the Health Service Executive, that every effort has been made to make the return as easy and as safe as possible. It has been eighteen months since students stepped foot on campus grounds and availed of the Campus facilities, the Boole Library being one of the most significant losses to students over the last academic year.
With the global pandemic still being a considerable hurdle, UCC will have strict guidelines and rules in place to ensure a safe return for staff and students. Third year undergraduate students will be returning to the UCC campus they last attended in March 2020, during their early weeks of semester two in first year. Incoming first and second-year undergraduate students will be stepping onto UCC campus for the first time, experiencing the Boole library, lecture theatres and tutorial groups.
Face to face teaching will return with only 80% of the normal pre-Covid room capacity. In large lecture theatres such as the Boole, a 200 attendee’s capacity is implemented, including the lecturer. In addition to this, students must wear face coverings throughout lectures, to ensure student as well as teacher safety. All lectures on campus are reduced to 45 minutes, allowing time for a changeover, and avoiding congestion in the hallways and theatre exits. The minister stated that these current health measures in place in lecture halls will be reviewed at the end of October as restrictions are eased in Ireland.
The Boole library will reopen its doors and seating areas for students. Alongside the Boole library, UCC Brookfield Library will also operate at 80% capacity this term to allow students to use reading rooms, study pods, and computers. Face coverings are mandatory whilst in the libraries and the current pre-booking system will remain in place for the foreseeable academic year. UCC has added extra library hours for the upcoming academic year to ensure greater access to the facilities.
The return to campus is a step towards normality. The Irish Times released that ‘it hasn’t been easy. Last year was the most challenging faced by the education sector since the foundation of the State. Academic programmes had to be adapted to utilise new learning techniques, while students experienced severe disruption surrounding their studies and end-of-year exams.’
In order to keep the UCC gates open, there have been many facilities installed to ensure a safe year. To reduce the risk of Covid-19 and transmission between students and faculty, we are encouraging you to make use of the installed facilities. The UCC Covid Tracker and Day pass App can be used by staff members, and UCC registered students. The App will provide information on whether it is safe for students to attend campus, based on a series of questions and answers provided by students. A RED Day-pass confirms it is not safe for a student to attend, and a GREEN Day-pass confirms it is safe for a student to attend. Rapid antigen testing is also available to students and faculty. Rapid antigen testing is a quick diagnostic test that will directly detect the presence or absence of Covid-19.
Incoming first years and second year students are being ensured the best possible college experience this academic year with the return of campus clubs and societies. For second year students, it is their first time on campus, attending lectures that are not remote learning, and adapting to the college lifestyle. Club activities, in-person events for college and societies are permitted within the structure of national public health guidelines. Simon Harris has confirmed that the number of college places has significantly increased this year, and also adds that he believes that the level of grade inflation in this year’s Leaving Certificate will be much higher. With the release of Leaving certificate results on Friday, September 3rd, it is clear that UCC will see a rise in incoming first-year students as opposed to other academic years.
Students have had to adapt rapidly to remote learning, with the Global Pandemic shutting down colleges back in 2020, there was no time for error. Moving forward, students must adapt back into campus-based learning. While students will have to adapt to wearing face coverings, social distancing, and new approaches to college, right now hopes are high for some guise of normality.