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Ireland’s ‘Back To Campus’ initiative settles in international students

Anticipating the arrival of international students during September, Ireland’s higher education institutions launched a ‘Back To Campus’ initiative, gathering together Covid-19 guidelines to help manage their safe return.

The initiative included a ‘Greet and Transfer’ facility. Photo: UoL

"Ensuring their safe and managed arrival will preserve the national and institutional brand values"

Revising measures from 2020, the initiative has provided information about vaccines, testing and quarantine but also a ‘Greet and Transfer’ facility “providing safe transport from the airport of arrival to their student accommodation in accordance with prevailing public health guidelines”.

On arrival, students have access to “free Covid testing and any vaccinations necessary”. Meanwhile, the Irish government has committed to free health care for international students for any Covid-19 related illness.

“We did a lot of cultural engagement, which we do before the students arrive”

By the end of September, students at all of the country’s eight universities will have resumed their studies, as announced by the country’s minister for higher education, Simon Harris.

“The plan for a safe return to campus includes the return of lectures, with some modifications to overall numbers and specific mitigation measures,” he said. “We need to begin the next academic year on the right foot, getting all our students and staff back on campus.”

International student arrivals have either been able to go straight to campus, because of their vaccination status, and into their new student life, or go to campus to quarantine. For students from one of the six countries in South America quarantined in a government-assigned hotel.

Among the arrangements in place for those quarantining on campus, is a digital and social engagement program. This was put in place at the University of Limerick and offered access to Netflix, online parties and quizzes.

“We did a lot of cultural engagement, which we do before the students arrive too,” said Josephine Page, director of international education at the university.

The arrangements for 2021 have had to take into account vaccinations to determine arrival outcomes.

While students coming into the country could easily get vaccines (from a chemist or registering online for an injection at a vaccination centre), if they had already been vaccinated, they needed to be aware of whether that vaccine was approved by the European Medicines Agency and where they were in their vaccine journey dictated their quarantine status.

Once settled, students have had to wear face masks indoors and adhere to the national rules on vaccine passports.

With Ireland relaxing restrictions – as of September 20 – to allow indoor activities to take place with capacity of 100 (providing those taking part are vaccinated), the way is opened for clubs and societies to return. For mixed immunity situations (a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated), a six person ‘pod’ will be allowed.

Lectures, meanwhile, have a limit of 300 people. Anything above that has to go online.

While many international students were understandably apprehensive about their studies abroad, the welcome they received as part of the ‘Greet and Transfer’ initiative has helped put some arrivals in a positive frame of mind.

“When I left Indonesia and was on the plane to the University of Limerick, I felt extremely excited, a little scared, apprehensive, and nervous,” one Indonesian study abroad student commented.

“What if I missed some documents? What if I can’t get along with the people? What if I can’t adjust to the lifestyle? However, all of these thoughts quickly went away as soon as I landed at Dublin Airport and met the UL Study Abroad Team.

“The team had prepared us well in advance of our travels and… we were well taken care of on our trip to Limerick, making me feel safe and excited to face my new semester.”

With international students bringing in around €0.5 billion a year in fees alone for Ireland, Ireland’s HEIs have been keen to stress their importance.

Jennifer Cleary, head of International at the Irish Universities Association said, “International students are of strategic importance to all of Ireland’s HEIs and are a major component of the national strategy for internationalisation.

“Ensuring their safe and managed arrival will preserve the national and institutional brand values and will enable the higher education sector to advance towards the targets and goals set for internationalisation.”

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