Dublin third-level institutes call for clarity as Level Three restrictions loom

The impact of a move to Level Three of the Government's new Covid-19 guidelines has lead to uncertainty for third-level institutes in Dublin.

As the 14-day incidence rate of cases per 100,000 in the capital has now risen to 109.6, additional restrictions are being considered to slow the spread of the virus.

On Tuesday, Dublin was placed on Level Two alongside every other county in the country, with additional restrictions being placed on household visits and the instruction that wet pubs will not be permitted to reopen on September 21st.

However, as Dublin continues to account for the majority of cases being reported each day, recording 136 of the 254 cases confirmed on Wednesday, Level Three restrictions are expected to be implemented by the weekend.

As thousands of students from around the country are due to return to third-level institutes in Dublin, University College Dublin (UCD) Student's Union president, Conor Anderson is calling for clarity regarding what impact increased restrictions would have on students.

"There is no clarity from the Government as to what will happen to third-level institutions should Dublin move into Level Three. This is causing significant confusion for students who are meant to be starting class on Monday.

"Students have been getting mixed communications all summer from their Universities and now with the final guidance in place, the Government have provided ambiguous information which could contradict everything students have been preparing for, just days before the start of term.

"We are calling on [Minister for Higher Education] Simon Harris to immediately state if University classes will be moved online if Dublin moves into Level Three," he said.

Online classes

Student's in Dublin's third-level institutes had already been informed that this semester would involve both online and on-campus classes due to public health guidelines, but now colleges are being told to offer classes online as much as possible.

According to the new Living with Covid-19 plan, Level Three restrictions allow for schools and childcare facilities to remain open with restrictive measures in place, however, the plan adds: "Further, higher and adult education to escalate all appropriate protective measures and limit congregation as far as possible".

Institutes have been left unsure as to whether this means any on-campus classes should be permitted to go ahead.

"Students have already registered for their classes and are expecting to move into new houses from different counties over the weekend.

"They need to know if the face-to-face classes they have registered for are going ahead and what the change in level will mean for them. Should they remain in their home county? Will their face-to-face classes be moved online?" Mr Anderson said.

An additional issue being faced by colleges is the arrival of students from outside of Dublin, some of whom would normally return home at weekends.

In Level Two, domestic travel is unrestricted, however people in Dublin are already being told not to leave the county, or to limit their interactions to one household if they must leave.

In Level Three, the guidelines for domestic travel is: "Stay in your county (or other defined geographical area) apart from work, education and other essential purposes, if appropriate".

The chair of the Central Applications Office (CAO) previously urged third-level students to consider not returning home at weekends to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Prof Pól Ó Dochartaigh said it was important to “to think about the movement patterns” of people across the country in advance of the return of university and college classes.