A wise man once said: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Higher education’s stakeholders have embraced this human flaw over the past few months, maintaining that a return to campus and some face-to-face learning was possible. In a few days, however, all of this changed. Suddenly all the glaring problems with re-opening came into focus.
While universities talked about smaller class sizes, social distancing, sanitisation stations, wiping down desks, “keep right, keep moving”, a marquee in New Square, better ventilation, no guests in accommodation and face masks, the number of cases in Dublin crept up – with the interesting caveat that most cases were among young people – surely a major red flag for colleges planning to re-open.
Meanwhile in America, health experts were likening universities to on-land cruise ships, as on-campus cases rose to nearly 90,000 countrywide – coronavirus had spiralled completely out of control. Colleges were desperately trying to curtail the worst of the outbreaks, but even in universities where widespread, aggressive testing was introduced, the virus was rampant.
It turns out that American students simply were not following the rules. Restrictions and rules aren’t worth much if enough people aren’t paying attention to them. Why did universities think Irish students would be any different?
Yet still, in Ireland, universities acted as if in-person teaching was possible, leading to students ploughing thousands of euros each into accommodation – that, realistically, it is unlikely they will need – and believing that college would be a lot more normal than it will be.
It is clear, based on these trends in America and the fact that we are heading into winter when everyone will be hunkered indoors with little ventilation, that all courses that don’t need to be in person may well remain online.
Colleges across Ireland have over-promised on in-person teaching, and ignored the red flags that have been popping up all summer. It’s about time they started embracing the changes, and stopped trying to conserve what they had before. At least until a vaccine arrives, that is.