Students mislead by UCD and Government

Image Credit: Dominic Daly

With UCD announcing that campus will be closed for the entire Trimester, Michael Bergin talks about the unsteady place this has put students into.

It was all going a little too well, wasn’t it?

Schools had reopened relatively successfully, colleges were looking to push on with the 2020/21 academic year, and students across the country were looking forward to getting their first taste of normality in 7 months. 

But alas, in politics, resting on your laurels is akin to the swimmer who gets tired of fighting the waves, preferring instead to tread water. It doesn’t take long for the sharks to start circling.

And circle they have. The reopening of schools has been jeopardised by rising cases of Covid-19 in cities such as Dublin, Cork, and Limerick. Leaving Cert students were left understandably surprised and upset when earlier this month it was revealed that a computing error had downgraded some 6,500 students. Finally, even colleges had to begin to reassess and restate their policies on allowing students back up to campus. Initially, it had been the hope and intention of colleges to accommodate for as many on-campus classes as possible, but changing circumstances have left them with no other choice but to now lockdown for the entire trimester. Who could have predicted this? It’s not like people have been saying it since the beginning of the year, definitely not. Why would UCD lie to us about being on campus just to make sure people shell out for their ridiculously high rent accommodation?

Students are angry, and students have every right to be. 

At the heart of the issue is the problem of accommodation costs. Many students around the country and internationally in the build-up to the academic year were sold accommodation on- and off-campus under the pretence that it would be necessary for the year ahead. On-campus accommodation is a notoriously pricey undertaking, and so for it to be suddenly declared non-essential means that many people have now been fraudulently sold accommodation that they do not need. It’s been written and discussed for months that it was clear this would happen. UCD had to have known this was coming. Fundamentally, it seems that a case of opportunism on the colleges’ behalf and at the expense of the students has taken hold. 

Of course, campus accommodation can easily be cancelled, and though the rent for the time spent hoping campus would reopen can’t be reclaimed, the rest of the costs can be. However, for students who were not lucky enough to receive an offer of on-campus accommodation, and instead were forced to invest in private accommodation, the path to reclaiming payments is not so rosy. With many locations having a minimum lease of one year on private properties, few provisions have been made for students who now find themselves without a reason to attend college. At the time of writing, the government has yet to give a definitive reassurance to these students directly, leaving them in dire uncertainty, and at the mercy of opportunistic landlords.

Students are angry at the situations that their colleges have left them in with regards to accommodation, but it also seems that students are being unfairly penalised for breaching Covid-19 regulations. Students as a whole are one of the categories of people that are the least likely to suffer severe consequences from the disease but have been roundly criticised in the media for attending house parties and the like. Indeed, in the past week, there have been numerous student house parties shut down by Gardaí, including a single night in Limerick where 35 such parties were shut down. In addition, UCC attracted widespread controversy last week when it came to light that 11 students had been suspended for breaching Covid-19 guidelines, while figures such as Judge Séamus Woulfe faces only minimal disciplinary measures for similar offences. At the same time, a 500 person gathering, protesting the use of face coverings, was allowed to take place in the centre of Dublin with little to no restraint by Gardaí. Why then, is it one rule for students, and another rule for the general public?

Students did not cause this pandemic, but they certainly have had to sacrifice an enormous part of their social, academic, and financial development in order to contain it. Perhaps disproportionately so. By all accounts, the reopening of colleges has been bungled by poor management, blatant opportunism, and a lack of regard for student’s wellbeing. The government has been supporting students in rhetoric certainly, but it seems that this support has not translated to much action. 

Students work in our hospitals for free, they do the essential jobs in retail we couldn’t survive without, and they enrich our society with fresh ideas and thoughts. We shouldn’t be taking them for granted like this.