Not everything should go back to normal

As restrictions slowly begin to lift, there is a growing hope around the city, and around wider Europe, that things will get back to normal soon. For an Irishman who meets many of the typical stereotypes, the chance to go out all night, drink pints and have a laugh is definitely high on the list. But is it really all for the better?

Take in-person classes for example. The UG is the third university I’ve studied at, and I have always been struck by how unnecessary it is for students to commute often long distances to sit in a lecture hall. Sure, some classes like labs and certain tutorials don’t fit the online and/or hybrid learning model; but let’s be honest for a second and admit most don’t need that level of physical presence.

This touches on a deeper issue: with so many students unable to find local accommodation amidst a deepening housing crisis in Groningen, hybrid learning offers a ready-made solution. Hybrid lectures offer a chance to let students attend in person whenever we can and online when we need to. If classes can only take place in-person for good pedagogical reasons, we can plan ahead for those, too!

Some lecturers have led the way on this and acknowledged the benefits that continuing to offer some, or all ,of their classes online can have for their students and themselves. Many of those who teach online continue to benefit from higher attendances and it’s easy to see why, when students can fit more classes in around part-time jobs, long commutes, and the general ebb and flow of life.

Certain lecturers are happy to unnecessarily force a return to on-campus only teaching

Unfortunately, some are more concerned with flexing their ability to control us. Certain lecturers, like some of the worst managers I’ve had, are more than happy to surrender their own happiness along with that of their students to unnecessarily force a return to on-campus only teaching. For such people, it seems controlling others is more important than growth or a balanced life.

What we are seeing now is that those who treat their employees and employees with empathy and understanding by offering solutions like hybrid and remote working where they can, have no shortage of applications; while those who seem resolute in their desire to drag us into an office or lecture to sit at a computer instead of doing the same at home are struggling to keep good people.

The first universities to prioritise this type of empathy, understanding, and support can only stand to benefit, too. The only question is, is the UG brave enough to lead the way?



  1. Hi Niall, I always enjoy your columns, but I have to disagree with you here. Encouraging people to sit in front of their screens at home and pretend that this constitutes an education is not ’empathy, understanding, and support’. There is one reason only why universities are considering going permanently ‘hybrid’ and that is saving costs. This attitude must be fought, not encouraged. If there is something about lectures that makes attending them seem worthless, we need to change that, not lie down and accept defeat. Too much of our lives has been moved online already; it has to stop somewhere.

    • For some students there are enourmous benefits with being able to study from the comfort of their own home though. It widens the access to education for students who are providing informal care for family, or students who might have children, students who have to work more hours to support themselves, students who are suffering from mental health (anxiety, depression) and developmental issues (like ADHD, autism), or students who have all kinds of disabilities that makes it so it requires more energy to show up in person. We should definitely advocate for a wider, easier and more flexible access to education. Always.

      • That sounds very reasonable, but these kinds of decisions should always be based on a broad look at the overall consequences. I’m afraid that it’s not always possible to create a situation that will be optimal for everybody involved. Online education is certainly more accessible, at least for those with a good internet connection, and accessibility is important, but is that the *only* consideration we should have?..


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