This week the government published what could be the most important document for students across the country in the coming year: the guidelines for the reopening and running of campuses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Finally – after months of scratching their heads – students were given some clarity on what College will look like for them, in both their academic and their personal lives.
The guidelines – written by public health experts – were wide reaching, and though at times vague, few people could complain about the contents.
However, even if the contents were acceptable, the fact that students were not consulted at any point in the development or publication of the guidelines is something students can feel rightfully irked about.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI), for example, received the guidelines just a day before they were released, giving them little time to digest them before they were launched into the public sphere to questioning students.
These guidelines will have a massive impact on students, and student representatives ought to have at least been given more than a day to read them before publication.
It goes without saying that students are not best placed to contribute to the scientific intricacies of guidelines designed for colleges. That does not mean, however, that when it comes to practicalities, a student perspective can’t be of help to public-health experts who most likely know little of what it’s like to be a student day to day.
The guidelines raise plenty of tough questions for students. If students are going to have to wear masks on a daily basis, for example, how will they pay for them? Masks aren’t cheap and a lot of students won’t have their usual summer-job savings to get them through the year. Rules around accommodation are restrictive and will need to be implemented in a savvy way to make sure that students will follow them.
Colleges need to get students’ perspectives on how best to implement the guidelines in a reasonable and practical way. If universities don’t engage with students, we could have plenty of rules, but not very many people able to follow them.