News Focus
May 29, 2020

Explainer: What We Know About Trinity’s Plans for a New Normal on Campus

This week, this newspaper published a slew of details about the options Trinity is considering for getting back to teaching next year.

Emer Moreau and Donal MacNamee

This week, The University Times has published a slew of details about the various plans Trinity is pondering as it seeks to get back to teaching in the next academic year.

For weeks now, we’ve known that students’ return to College – most likely on September 28th – will be only partial, but until this week we didn’t have much in the way of details about the specifics of what this return will look like.

Now we know a little more, and next Wednesday – after a meeting of Trinity’s University Council – we’ll likely hear fresh details about College’s roadmap for the coming year.


The stories we published came from as-yet unpublished minutes from the last meeting of Council, from a discussion document presented by Vice-Provost Jurgen Barkhoff.

If you missed some of the details we broke this week, here’s a breakdown of everything we know so far about the options Trinity is weighing up for next year.

Return to Teaching – in a Blended Format – on September 28th

For several weeks, students have suspected that the college environment they would return to would be very different from the one they left in March. As the government struggles to define acceptable conditions for teaching and learning in a pandemic, speculation about social distancing in lectures and live-streamed classes has abounded.

When news emerged that the University of Cambridge was taking the decision to hold all classes online for the whole academic year, it seemed as though no measure was too extreme.

But the decision ultimately made by Council was, according to the minutes, “consistent with that of the other Irish and UK universities”. If all goes well in the next few months, undergraduates will start back on September 28th – but, as suspected, not under entirely normal circumstances.

The upcoming academic year will involve “blended learning”, which will see students attend both in-person lectures and online classes. Groups of less than 25 will be permitted to meet on campus, but anything larger will have to be held virtually in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

But Delayed Predicted Grades Results Could Push Back Start Date

Back in March, as the country moved towards near-lockdown, the stress of the leaving certificate students was compounded by weeks of uncertainty: cancelled oral exams, delayed to the exam period and the ultimate cancellation of written exams altogether.

For prospective Trinity students, the knock-on effects of this unprecedented decision aren’t over – Council is keen to ensure that incoming first years start at the same time as all other year groups, so if there are delays to the awarding of leaving certificate results, the start date for all undergraduates may have to be pushed back even further.

Earlier this week, the deadline for applying to receive “calculated” grades was extended, so it could be several weeks before we know when students will receive their results. Watch this space.

Christmas Exams Could be Moved to January 2021

For students and lecturers alike, “blended learning” will bring an unprecedented set of challenges. If Christmas exams were to be held in December as normal, another difficulty would arise: having to squeeze 12 weeks of teaching material into a smaller time frame.

College is keen to avoid this, so in order to facilitate a full 12-week teaching term, Christmas exams are likely to take place in early January 2021. The logistics of this are currently unclear – but in the current climate, it’s hard to see several hundred students packing into the RDS as normal. Questions will also arise around the Christmas holidays themselves: few students will be happy to be cramming or writing essays on the week of December 25th.

Social Distancing to Limit Student Presence on Campus – to as Little as 20%

As the country’s politicians and public health officials debate the merits of Ireland’s two-metre social distancing rules, Trinity has been making its own calculations on how many students it can accommodate on campus.

The figure College came up with – at least the one presented to Council earlier this month – was 20 per cent. Barkhoff warned Council of the “challenges presented by the two metre social distancing requirements for face-to-face teaching approaches” – and added that the protocols as they currently stand “will result in only 20% of the student population being accommodated on campus”.

The minutes don’t explicitly state if this means 20 per cent at any given time, but it’s hard to see what else it could mean. Either way, it’s a figure that will have made an intangible concept – what College will look like as Ireland starts emerging from a pandemic – very real for many students.

Student Cleanliness Crucial to Phased Re-Opening of Accommodation

One of the biggest challenges Trinity is facing is how to manage its accommodation. Communal living and a deadly pandemic are not natural bedfellows, so re-opening student apartments is a process that’s fraught with risk – and scary for students and College administrators alike.

What we know so far is that accommodation will be re-opened “on a phased basis”. The specifics of what this will look like aren’t contained in the minutes: one imagines it’ll be a highly complicated undertaking, with an unending list of questions that College is doubtless trying to answer as it goes.

But what we do know – courtesy of Prendergast – is that the living behaviour of residents will be crucial to the process. Students aren’t known for being the cleanest bunch, but the stakes are higher now, and they’ll need to “do things differently” – by “ensuring that kitchens and shared spaces are kept clean and tidy at all times”. How realistic this is as a tactic for warding off the virus remains to be seen. You’d hope it’ll be accompanied by further, more robust, measures.

Trinity Will ‘Need to Support’ International Students in 14-Day Quarantine, Says Provost

Colleges around the country have accepted that next year will see far fewer international students hitting our country’s shores – but this axiom applies mostly to first-year students. Students from abroad who want to return to Dublin to pick up their studies are a different consideration.

By September, it’s not clear what rules Ireland will have in place for those arriving into its airports, but Trinity seems to have accepted that a 14-day “quarantine” will need to be imposed on international students. At Council, Provost Patrick Prendergast was clear: Trinity will “need to support” them during this period.

What that’ll look like is unclear – College only has a finite number of beds, and re-opening its accommodation is likely to be tough enough without throwing into the mix a cohort of students on a strict schedule of self-isolation. We can expect many questions in the coming months from students – both Irish and international.

Sign Up to Our Weekly Newsletters

Get The University Times into your inbox twice a week.