By Caoimhe Killeen
Students at NUI Galway living off-campus have voiced their concerns over a lack of support from the University during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite free transport being provided by the University directly from Dublin Airport to Galway, as well as rooms in Goldcrest and Corrib Village being offered for the mandatory two-week quarantine, students have experienced difficulties in areas from receiving course information to lack of mandatory testing upon their arrival in Galway.
Marlon Shoo, a Higher Diploma Psychology student from the Netherlands, was only sent questionnaires by the University to check for Covid-19 symptoms
The first one was sent two weeks before leaving for Galway, and every day during his 2-week quarantine off-campus. But he was not advised to get an in-person test for Covid-19 by the University.
“It was nice, but there was no actual (in-person) check-up,” Marlon stated.
“There was no one who checked if you really didn’t have any symptoms…I think mandatory Covid testing would have been a good thing to install upon arriving in Galway.”
While he has begun to adjust to student life abroad, Marlon also added that there is room for improvement regarding orientation for non-Erasmus students. “I’m not an Erasmus student so I don’t get information. I have one orientation hour, which takes place next week Monday (28th of September) after I’ve already had my first class of the semester.”
I just hope the University acknowledges the fact that incoming postgraduate students are in some cases also completely new to the university and therefore some more information would be reassuring for us.”
This lack of information may stem from the fact that no one was elected to the position of International Student Officer in the last round of SU elections, leaving the position vacant.
NUI Galway’s Student’s Union President Pádraic Toomey stressed the importance of protecting international students during this unprecedented time. “International students have come from abroad to a new country and we need to protect them and make sure they aren’t forgotten.
Most students from Ireland can call home for when things get too tough, but our international students are here for their full term and we need to make sure they can make friends and have that opportunity they came here for.” he said.
“We need the university to have support in place to help them transition to their life here.”
He also stressed the need to elect a new International Students Officer as soon as possible: “As soon as elections can be held in person on campus, we will hold them. It’s important that all these positions are filled, so that all our voices can be heard, and to know what’s important for international students.”
Even for returning students, supports outside of the campus space have been a huge help. Sina Ahmadi, a third-year PhD student in Computer Science and Engineering has been studying at NUI Galway since April 2018 and was living in off-campus accommodation.
After taking necessary Covid-19 precautions for over five months this year, he left Ireland in August to visit his girlfriend and family in his home country of Greece and planned to self-isolate upon his return- despite Greece being on the green list at the time.
However, his accommodation unexpectedly fell through while he was in Greece.
Sina was able avail of information as a tenant through Threshold who guided him through what to do when he was told he could not return to his accommodation after being abroad. he was able to resolve matters with his landlord, and he eventually found a new place in which to self-isolate.
The student described the experience as a big lesson to him, telling SIN: “We all try to be kind and to compromise in many ways in our lives, despite all the difficulties, but some people don’t take the two sides of the story into account. Covid-19 is dangerous, and we should all do our best to break the chains of transmission.”
These sentiments have also been echoed at a national level in Government not just for international students, but for those who are coming from other parts of Ireland to attend University.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Higher Education Rose Conway-Walsh spoke at special Oireachtas Covid-19 briefing last week, stating that among those starting University this September are young people who will be living away from home for the first time.
“Considering that Dr Ronan Glynn tells us that Covid is disproportionately spread by younger people, is it realistic to expect them to adhere to the rules on and off-campus? Circumstances that expose students and their families to infection must be minimised. The creep of Covid from campus to county cannot be allowed,” she stated.