There are many challenges facing universities at the moment, including student and staff health and welfare, admissions issues, and the longer-term impact that the global crisis will leave on higher education. Keeping education afloat has of course been a major concern and the welcome news that the cabinet has made a decision to create a fund to help third-level students buy laptops, tablets and other tools for online learning tablets during the current pandemic.
Up to 10,000 students can expect to receive this much-needed support for their education.
The Student Grant Scheme is usually the main financial support system available for students, so this additional finance will come as a breath of fresh air for concerned students. The fund will be there to help last year’s leaving cert students who are facing a trickier start to life in third level education due to the delay in publishing the predicted grades scheme.
For many students who are currently enrolled at universities and other further education centres (including undergraduate and postgraduate studies), it has been an extremely uncertain time. Not only have students had to become more resourceful and proactive but they have also had to find ways to access course modules and research information online. Materials and technology, all cost money, as well as the added costs of living, paying rent and maintaining an internet connection too. All made more difficult by the loss of part-time jobs that are likely to have ceased during lockdown.
The majority of students have incurred additional costs as the lockdown commenced, and will incur costs when they return in the autumn term too. The much needed funding will also cover costs incurred by third-level institutions ahead of reopening in September, including funding for the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) that may be used by students, staff and anyone visiting onsite premises, along with more hand washing stations and ways to sanitise hands.
The most effective tool in keeping students enrolled on their courses, is by enabling them to maintain access to learning via online courses. Universities, in particular, have adjusted their programs in response to the spread of Covid-19.
The current crisis has shown that there are other options – in the space of a few months, it’s been proven that blended learning is working well and students are on the whole, remaining driven to carry on with their studies. Now that we’ve hit the summer holidays, many students are starting to anticipate their official return to studies in September. However, campuses will not look and operate as they once did and there will be a lot of changes to adhere to. Lectures will look very different and there will be a large focus on distance learning from student’s own laptops and computer equipment.
Now that life is starting to move forward with measures in place, it’s even more important that things start heading in the right direction for people in education, albeit with different systems and a lot more home directed/off campus learning as a result.