The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has called for clarity on the government’s plans to re-open colleges.
In a press statement, IFUT General Secretary Joan Donegan highlighted the need for information on plans for social distancing requirements, guidelines for protecting vulnerable students and staff, protocols for online delivery of classes, the impact of cancellation of temporary and short-term lecturing contracts on education delivery and standards.
The union also called on the Government to reverse the cuts to higher education funding over the past decade in this year’s October budget.
In a press statement Donegan said: “IFUT is working constructively and successfully with individuals college managements on many of the above issues. However, the Minister and Department of Higher Education has a specific responsibility and competence to ensure that the reopening of higher education occurs as smoothly as possible.”
“Firstly, health and safety measures, including decisions on the 2 metre rule and protections for at risk staff and students must be urgently addressed. Secondly, variations in individual college strategies and policies must be managed to ensure students receive an objective and realistic understanding of college life and study in the coming academic year.”
“Front-line staff, should be fully involved in all discussions and decisions at national level as well as locally. Staff cannot be expected to plan and deliver on potentially over-ambitious claims regarding course delivery on which they are not consulted”, she added.
In the guidance document for reopening published last week, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said that the initial response to the coronavirus had involved “a rapid move to emergency remote teaching and assessment of programmes, without impacting on the integrity of qualifications”.
Speaking about this document, Donegan said that it would “not be possible to sustain such an ‘emergency’ mode approach for a full academic year”.
“The ‘new normal’ must prioritise the ‘normal’ for staff and students alike, to ensure that education delivered and received under altered teaching and assessment arrangements withstands full academic and professional scrutiny.”
“The most vulnerable and precarious staff in higher education are now having contracts terminated or not renewed due to Covid-19. Underfunding of the past decade has led universities to develop a precarious employment model, the departure of these staff now threatens the viability of many courses in a way that may not be immediately clear but may have devastating impact as the year progresses.”
Trinity’s academic year will start on September 28th, Provost Patrick Prendergast confirmed in May, as part of a radically altered academic calendar that will see first-term exams starting in January 2021 and a two-week Christmas break introduced.
First-year students will start College – which will run a mixture of online and blended learning – with an orientation week on September 21st.
Students will enjoy a far shorter Christmas break as part of an academic calendar revised as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The holidays will start on December 21st, with term starting again with a revision week on January 4th. Exams will commence on January 11th, and run for two weeks.