THIRD level students in Cork are preparing for a return to college amid concerns over fees and accommodation costs.
With some third level institutes opting largely for supporting students to learn from home, calls have been made for student contribution fees to be reduced.
Landlords have also been urged to be flexible with student tenants while students have been warned not to sign long-term leases until they see their timetable.
Naoise Crowley, president of the Student’s Union at University College Cork (UCC) said the conditions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have impacted students in several areas of their lives.
Speaking to The Echo, Mr Crowley said students have lost part-time and summer jobs as a direct result of Covid-19, impacting their ability to pay for college and accommodation.
In the midst of a housing crisis, he explained students are concerned about finding accommodation but also about paying for a room they may rarely need, depending on their on-campus time.
He called for a reduction in the student contribution fees, flexibility from landlords and urged students to be wary of signing long-term leases.
Mr Crowley said emergency legislation is needed to protect student renters in the current climate.
UCC SU Welfare Officer Jamie Fraser recently wrote an open letter to landlords, students and college heads asking landlords to be flexible with students, asking colleges to circulate timetables so students will have clarity and thanking students for their patience and resilience to get through this.
“The main thing was asking landlords for flexibility because over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had many students telling us their landlords are asking for around €3,000 up front in August for the next six months because they’re trying to protect themselves against the pandemic,” he said.
“Emergency legislation needs to be brought in to protect renters, particularly student renters.
“If there’s a second wave or a localised lockdown and people can’t get back to their accommodation, what happens then?”
Addressing the issue of fees, Mr Crowley said the fees are set as a contribution charge of €3,000 and ‘there has been no real direction from the government on that just yet’.
“There is a petition that we were sharing seeking a reduction in these fees,” he said.
“The Union of Students in Ireland is seeking a €500 reduction in those fees this year. It’s a very legitimate concern.
“College is so expensive to go to in the first place but now there’s accommodation costs to worry about along with the fact that many may not be on campus that often.
“It’s very hard at the moment as well to find part-time jobs and many students rely on them to pay for their college and/or accommodation.
“Many of the people that lost their jobs due to Covid-19 are in the 18 to 24 age bracket so many might be students. How do they pay for the costs associated with college?
“Many people would have worked a summer job or even two, along with a part-time job during college term, to pay for their college and accommodation but now that’s just not possible for them.”
Mr Crowley praised UCC for its attempts to provide as much on-campus learning as possible under the current circumstances.
“In fairness to UCC, they are trying to have as much on-campus activity as possible,” he said. “Many colleges have gone down the full online approach but UCC haven’t and we think that’s great.
“There is also flexibility there for those who are immunocompromised and can’t go to class in that the online resources are there. UCC has worked hard in recent months to ensure that is the case and it’s something we at the SU were pushing for.
“We’re waiting on some departments now to publish timetables so that students can have that resource when planning around Covid-19. A lot of timetables are already out which is great.
“It is challenging for many students because having that face-to-face interaction with lecturers and students is so important, but UCC is working hard to make sure that can happen for those who can attend and they’re also making sure resources and classes are available online for those who can’t.”
In a statement to The Echo, a spokesperson for UCC said the university is ‘advancing plans for a hybrid teaching approach in the next academic year with as much on-campus engagement as is possible under prevailing public health guidelines, combined with remote learning’.
“The on-campus engagement will be prioritised for smaller groups such as seminars, tutorials and laboratories, with the online teaching mainly for larger lectures,” he said. “UCC has in place a peer support scheme for all first year students to support their transition into third level.
“Group projects will be coordinated at a local course module coordinator/course level.
“All plans are based on ensuring that the quality and integrity of learning outcomes and qualifications are maintained “There will be no diminution in the standards of tuition, and on that basis there will be no reduction in tuition fee levels for the coming year.”
Meanwhile, Cork Institute of Technology said it is preparing for a blended approach for the coming academic semester.
“This means that a significant proportion of teaching, learning and assessment will be delivered remotely,” said a spokesperson. “Generally, lectures will be delivered online, except possibly for some small class groups.
“The situation for small group learning activities such as practicals, workshops, kitchens, laboratories, and tutorials will be more varied, depending on the academic discipline. Some of these will be delivered face-to-face on campus, while others will be delivered remotely.”
The spokesperson explained that, where a class is required to be on campus for small group learning activities, “we will do our best to ensure that the number of days on which that class is required to be on campus is kept as small as possible”.
The CIT library is currently planning for the gradual reopening of its facilities across all campuses in time for semester one, with health and safety measures in place. Since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, the Institute’s Student Services have continued to run remotely and engage with students.
These services, including Access and Disability, Pastoral Care, Counselling, Medical Service, and the Careers Service are planning to resume some face-to-face activity in the new academic year, but will also continue to be available remotely. CIT’s student clubs and societies are also preparing for the forthcoming academic year.
Extra gym space will be made available in order to provide opportunities to students and staff to exercise and train while complying with social distancing requirements.
The Academic Learning Centre will continue to deliver and enhance support across a range of disciplines, both face-to-face and remotely.
CIT Academic Success Coaches will also be available to their students, again both face-to-face and remotely.