Northern Ireland

Queen's University continuing face-to-face learning despite Covid concerns

Queen's University plans to continue face-to-face classes
Queen's University plans to continue face-to-face classes Queen's University plans to continue face-to-face classes

QUEEN'S University plans to continue face-to-face classes - insisting Covid-19 is spreading among students in social settings rather than on campus.

Every higher education institution, north and south, has moved almost all lectures and tutorials online, with the exception of Queen's.

It said it believes its approach is in best interests of its students, both for their education and wellbeing.

Up to 100 Queen's students are understood to be self-isolating after an outbreak in university accommodation in Belfast.

Staff have voiced concerns that extensive face-to-face teaching is not safe.

The Sage scientific advisory group has also said young people must be given "the right to return home" to study.

It has further recommended that all teaching should be delivered online "by default".

In-person tutoring should only take place if regular testing is available.

The group issued a report in the wake of attempts by universities in Britain to lock thousands of students in their accommodation after a spike in cases.

All the main universities in the Republic are putting online learning first.

There will be also be no face-to-face lectures at Ulster University until at least Christmas.

About 25,000 students will instead take their courses online in the first term, although some small group teaching may take place on campus.

At St Mary's University College, meanwhile, most classes will remain online at least until Halloween.

Queen's is aiming to provide as much face-to-face teaching as possible, applying the relevant social distancing and hygiene measures.

A connected learning approach is anticipated, with online delivery "complementing face-to-face teaching as necessary".

Large lectures, where social distancing cannot be maintained, will be delivered online.

It has not changed its position despite the latest outbreak.

A Queen's spokeswoman said a small number of students living in its accommodation had tested positive for Covid-19 and it was working closely with the Public Health Agency and in line with its guidance, having acted swiftly to ask all affected students and those considered at risk to self-isolate.

"Currently, this constitutes a very small proportion of students living in university accommodation. All other students should remain calm and continue to follow public health guidelines to protect themselves and others, including avoiding unnecessary travel," she said.

"The evidence is that transmission is occurring in social settings as opposed to on-campus education environments so the university remains confident that it can continue to deliver face-to-face teaching safely and in accordance with public health guidance.

"We believe this continues to be in the best interests of our students, both for their education and wellbeing. However, we will continue to keep this under constant review.

"The university is in close liaison with the NI Executive and PHA and is keeping them fully informed of the university’s approach."

The University and College Union said its position echoed that of Sage that there should be "no default face-to-face teaching".

"Last month the union called for remote working to be adopted wherever possible this term because it was clear what would happen if it wasn't," said general secretary Jo Grady.

"Since then, our polling of members of the public in university towns and cities has revealed a wider consensus in support of our position."

UCU's branch at Queen's said as cases were on the rise, it was not safe for a mass return to campus "or extensive in person teaching within the next few weeks".

It has lodged an industrial dispute with senior management.

Branch vice president Dr Merav Amir said most members would be happier teaching face-to-face but not under the current circumstances.

"There's a lot of concern. Face-to-face teaching contravenes government guidance, Sage recommendations and what all the other higher education institutions are doing on the island," she said.


How Ireland's universities are providing teaching:

:: Dublin City University: Most teaching will move online for the period of heightened restrictions, meaning campus time in information students received at the beginning of September may reduce. Some campus teaching and research will go ahead.

:: NUI Galway: All taught programmes will be delivered in a hybrid of online and on-campus classes, which means a blend of face-to-face teaching and virtual learning through on-campus tutorials, seminars, distanced meet-ups and/or laboratories according to the needs of various courses.

:: NUI Maynooth: Most teaching will be remote, and students will only be on campus for practical activities, small group tutorials and small group teaching where the topic requires a lot of interaction.

:: Queen's University: Aims to provide as much face-to-face teaching as possible, applying the relevant social distancing and hygiene measures to assure the safety of students. A connected learning approach is anticipated with online delivery complementing face-to-face teaching as necessary.

:: Trinity College Dublin: In person teaching in Faculty of Health Sciences and Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science will continue as planned either because it is laboratory, practical or other teaching requiring physical presence. Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences will need to be moved online until current restrictions are lifted.

:: University College Cork: Lectures will be delivered online to the maximum extent possible during the period of enhanced protective measures. Lab-based, clinical, and practical based tuition may continue on campus.

:: University College Dublin: Large group activities, like lectures, will take place through digital methods. Some of these may be streamed so that while a smaller than normal number of students will attend, others will access these lectures online.

:: University of Limerick: The vast majority of academic delivery has moved online, with the exception of labs and workshops and some essential tutorials. Students are advised not to travel to Limerick if their full programme is due to be delivered online over the next two weeks and all social and club activities on campus have been suspended until further notice.

:: Ulster University: First term commenced as planned on September 21 with lectures and other teaching online for semester one. Some on-campus activities will take place, based on a robust local risk assessment.