The University of Galway has defended its decision to move away from a blended (online and in-person) model of teaching for the 2022-2023 academic year, despite many students finding it difficult to attend lectures due to the lack of housing available in Galway.
In a statement to Galway Pulse, the University’s press office cited “concerns about low levels of engagement among students” as a result of the “disruption to in-person teaching” caused by the pandemic, as reasoning for its decision to return to fully on-campus learning.
Imogen O’Flaherty Falconer, Vice President and Welfare and Equality Officer for the University of Galway’s Student Union, had a different take on the matter:
“I think the university’s wish to return to on campus learning is rushed and inconsistent with reality,” she said, speaking to Galway Pulse.
“The lack of engagement we had with lectures last year with hybrid learning wasn’t just due to the fact we had the option of hybrid learning, it was accommodation issues, mental health issues, health concerns surrounding covid, among many other variables which can’t be fixed with a strict return to on campus learning,” Ms O’Flaherty Falconer added.
“This is just an attempt to fix the issue without trying to fix the causes of the issue.”
In a survey conducted by Galway Pulse, 42.5 per cent of respondents attending the University of Galway reported having “struggled” to find accommodation for the academic year.
15 per cent of students surveyed disclosed that they were yet to find stable accommodation at all.
David*, a final year student, is forced to commute from Athlone every day as he was unable to secure a place to live in Galway.
“It’s not the worst commute in the world but it certainly isn’t an easy one. I don’t drive either so I’m getting the train every day,” he explained. “It’s about an hour-and-a-half to two-hours from my house to the college.”
The lengthy commute means a lot of early mornings and late evenings for David:
“On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have to wake up at six am to try get into college for a nine am class. By the time I’m in [for the lecture] I am exhausted already and find it hard to actually take in any of the information.”
Fatigue isn’t the only detrimental side effect of David’s daily commute.
Speaking to Galway Pulse, he outlined how living so far away from campus can be an isolating experience.
“The worst thing about commuting is probably waiting around,” said David, tellingly. “When other people can pop home after they’ve done their work, you’re sitting around trying to find some college work to do or endlessly scrolling through your phone. It can be quite lonely and boring.”
Having to idle – for want of a better word – on campus is the reality for many University of Galway students.
27.5 per cent of the students surveyed by Galway Pulse reported having to travel 30-minutes or longer to get to college, making it unfeasible to return home during long breaks between lectures.
David described how living a considerable distance from the city can be a stress factor for students when it comes to their extra-curricular and social lives:
“ I try to keep up with playing sport and play for a college team. We train on Tuesday and Thursday evenings so that means my days start at six am and after I get the last train out of Galway, I get back home at around 11:30 pm.”
“It’s also difficult not to have somewhere to stay when you want to go out with your friends. You inevitably are trying to find a couch to sleep on or a hostel.”
Addressing the issue?
In its statement to Galway Pulse, the University of Galway stated that finding solutions to the housing crisis is a “priority” of the faculty, and of the university president, Ciarán O’hÓgartaigh.
Earlier this week, Professor O’hÓgartaigh lent his support to the SU demonstration and sleep-out in Eyre Square, which was part of wider efforts to call for more action to support students.
The University also continues its call and campaigns to secure accommodation in and around the city, including by asking staff to offer beds under the rent-a-room scheme.
*David is an alias to protect the identity of the student, who wishes to remain anonymous