COLLEGES LECTURERS ARE facing a “groundhog day” of administrative work due to the delayed start of incoming first-year students, their representatives have said.
Most colleges have adjusted their calendars so first years start lectures two or three weeks later than all other undergraduates, due to the tight turnaround between the release of CAO offers and the return to classes.
Student representatives have said the split start will negatively impact first years, who will likely have to sit separate exam sessions at the end of the semester.
Alternatively, first years could have their first term condensed to catch up with other year groups.
The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has warned that this will be “hugely problematic” for teaching staff, too.
John Walsh, the chair of IFUT’s Trinity College branch and a lecturer in TCD’s School of Education, said that the a staggered start to the academic year last year – when Leaving Cert results were similarly delayed – caused huge stress for teaching staff.
Walsh told The Journal: “We ended up with a January [exam] session for first years, then there was a February deferral session as well.
“It was like Groundhog Day for academic staff. They were hardly ever free of examination and assessment demands throughout the year. Normally those kind of the those kinds of sessions will be clearly defined.
“Academic staff have been coping with major challenges due to Covid anyway, and that intensified the pressure.”
This will be the third year in a row that Leaving Cert and Leaving Cert Applied examination results won’t be available until early September, instead of the usual mid-August date, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Department of Education cited a number of reasons for the delayed release of results, including a shortage of examiners and a commitment that the overall set of results in 2022 will be no lower, in the aggregate, than the 2021 results.
Furthermore, there will be a second set of Leaving Cert exams in July for students who experienced a bereavement during the June session, or contracted Covid.
Walsh said that there was a need to accommodate students in this way, but it was “really unhelpful” that it took so long for the State Examinations Commission (SEC) to confirm when results would be published.
“It’s grossly unfair to students and their families to make them wait until September for leaving search results.”
Students and opposition politicians criticised the timeline, saying there would be a scramble to secure accommodation in September.
Megan O’Connor, the Vice President for Academic Affairs of the Union of Students in Ireland, told The Journal that the quick turnaround was set to be a “disaster”.
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“There’s a reason that orientation for first years is meant to be the week before everyone else goes back to college … I think there’s going to be a significant issue with students who wants to wait for second-round offers, who wants to appeal their course.”
O’Connor added that students entering higher education through the HEAR and DARE access routes would also be disadvantaged by the staggered return to lectures, as these students typically have specialised orientation before they start classes.
She said that teaching was at risk if colleges were forced to condense full modules into a reduced timeframe to enable first years to catch up with everyone else: “I think we’re going to be faced with a number of options and we’re just going to have to pick one. None of them are ideal.”
In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for the Irish Universities Association said the late release of Leaving Cert results could be avoided by holding the exams earlier than June.
“The Leaving Cert results are too late, even in a ‘normal’ year. They are later than the vast majority of other countries across Europe. Even without the delays experienced this year, there is an extremely tight window for students from completion of offers to the start of college.
“The IUA believes that we should now plan to bring forward the Leaving Cert exams by at least two weeks, and preferably four, so as to give students…