For many, Trinity’s decision last Friday on Erasmus – long-awaited by a cohort of students desperate for clarity – will likely have come as a surprise.
By allowing students, “where possible”, the option to travel abroad for the first semester of next year, Trinity became Ireland’s first – and possibly only – university to leave up to its students the call on whether to travel.
It’s a decision that’s divided opinion, in a world attempting to tread a precarious tightrope back to something approaching normality.
In one way, letting students make their own decisions makes sense. If it’s safe to travel – and in some countries, it may well be – then a pre-emptive decision to keep students at home would end up looking like a move that needlessly denies them an experience many have spent years waiting for.
But huge questions hover. Everyone knows international travel has been a major factor in the spread of the virus, and it’s hard not to be uncomfortable at a scenario where students can take a gamble by moving abroad – with Trinity’s blessing – in circumstances that may be dicey.
The decision doesn’t give students certainty either (a commodity nobody can claim as a right mid-pandemic). Those who choose to travel will have to work out how to ship their life overseas, while planning for a scenario where they’re told at the last minute they can’t come, and have to find accommodation in Dublin.
What’s certain is that the Global Relations Office – hardly a body with a stellar record on study abroad programmes – will need to deliver in a way it rarely has before in order to avoid all-out chaos while navigating a case-by-case Erasmus.
All of this fuss, of course, could amount to nothing. In three months time, it may well be possible for many Trinity students to travel safely. Those who can’t move can make the decision to stay home in line with public health advice, without feeling Trinity stymied their year abroad.
For now, all we can say is that allowing students to go on Erasmus remains a gamble, and marks Trinity out as an outlier. Time will decide if College is vindicated, or forced to reckon with a costly mistake.