Like so many other things, third level education will have to change to deal with the challenges posed by Covid-19.

Here, we take a look at what will be different at some of the country's universities and colleges when the next academic year begins in the autumn.

Online lectures

'Hybrid' and 'blended' are the buzzwords of the new academic year. UCD says it will deliver its elective modules at a distance, where possible, while Trinity, DCU and Maynooth University say their larger lectures will be delivered online.

UCC says all module content will be prepared for virtual access, but delivery will include some face-to-face time. NUIG, UL, and TU Dublin have yet to outline specifics, but say that hybrid or blended teaching and learning will be in place from the autumn.

Online teaching allowed the third-level sector to complete the last academic year. It is going to be a major factor in the forthcoming one and most believe it is here to stay. But DCU's President, Prof Brian MacCraith, says it involves more than just lecturers putting their slides up online.

He says there is an art to delivering classes remotely - it is called online pedagogy - and that DCU has been perfecting this art for three decades now and is well equipped to switch to predominately online teaching.

Campus time

Overall, it appears that students will be spending less time on campus than before. UCD says elements of its core modules will be delivered on campus, but the number of these may be reduced.

Trinity and DCU say students will only have to come to campus for smaller seminars, tutorials, practicals and labs. In the case of DCU, it is condensing these kinds of classes into one or two days to allow for the reduced availability of public transport and the reality that many students may opt to commute from home if they are not required to be on campus as often as before.

The University of Limerick says it is planning a model that will see about 20% of staff and students on campus at any one time and that they will rotate periods of being on and off campus.

College life

A big part of the third-level experience is college life itself. Clubs, societies, events and debates. Even the less formal things such as interactions with other students, forging friendships and time spent hanging out at campus pool tables and bars are all part and parcel of the student experience.

For some, the time spent doing things such as writing for the student newspaper or broadcasting on the campus radio station might be central to their future career path (full disclosure, that's what I spent most of my time in UCD doing).

The colleges recognise the vital role that student life plays in attracting and retaining students and they have all committed to being innovative in preserving the college experience in the current climate with virtual events already under way.

But the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) says students are worried about this aspect being lost in an increasingly online learning environment.


The big question is, if students do not need to come to campus, do they need to live near their university?

While most of the colleges have outlined a road map for next semester, many have yet to published detailed timetables that will allow students to decide what to do in this regard and it is something the USI is calling for more clarity on.

Both DCU and UL have said their on-campus accommodation offering will be more flexible to suit the different needs to students this year.

DCU describes it as a more hostel or hotel-like approach, which will allow students to stay for a few days, a few weeks or a few months as required and permits those who have been offered a place for next year to rethink their booking if they decide they want to commute from home instead.

Interestingly, NUI Galway has told its students that it may encourage them to stay in Galway and not travel to and from their homes and are therefore encouraging students to secure accommodation in the city before the academic year begins in September


The USI says that because the campus offering is being reduced, now is the time for the Government to look at student registration fees, which it says are among the highest in Europe.

But with colleges counting the cost of a reduced number of international students and the higher fees that come with them, they are unlikely to be willing to budge on this one.

The DCU President said despite what people might think, delivering online classes is actually a more costly exercise for the institutions in the first five to ten years of switching to this model.

The university sector as a whole has expressed concern about funding and their pleas for more State support are likely to repeated in the weeks and months ahead.


They may seem a long way off but some third-level institutions would be due to hold exams by the end of 2020. Trinity College Dublin said its end of terms assessment will be online. UCC said there will be no end of semester exams and that all supplemental exams will be held online. The University of Limerick said there will be no end of semester exams.

UCD says continuous assessment and other "open book assessment formats" will be a part of the model next year and that the exams it holds in Dublin's RDS, which would usually see hundreds of students under one roof sitting a variety exams, will not be held at the venue pre-Christmas 2020.

Erasmus and external placements

Spending a year abroad is a core part of some courses, such as language degrees. For others, it is an optional experience. But DCU has cancelled its Erasmus programme, while Trinity says its year abroad will proceed.

External placements can also be the main attraction for some students when it comes to choosing courses, in particular to those that have proven ties with industry and are likely to result in a jobs path.

With so many companies working remotely and social distancing requirements limiting staff numbers, promising placements to students will be obviously be more problematic this year.

The University of Limerick says it will endeavour to provide placements for its students, but where it cannot, it will look at alternatives.