Interview with DkIT President, Michael Mulvey, PhD21 April 2020
On 12th March 2020, like other higher education institutes across Ireland, Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) took the extraordinary decision to close its campus to students and staff due to the COVID-19 health emergency, in line with guidance issued by the Government.
“From the outset, our number one priority was ensuring the health and wellbeing of our students and staff. Preparations immediately began across the institute to develop new ways of delivering teaching & learning and continuing our organisational operations through remote or digital means.”
In anticipation of the evolving situation, the institute established a COVID-19 TaskForce in early March which comprised managers from across all areas of the institute to oversee its response to the Covid-19 emergency. The taskforce meets regularly and is able to swiftly respond to the evolving situation, making decisions in an efficient and informed manner.
During the initial weeks of campus closure, the institute’s focus centred on ensuring the academic continuity of all programmes. This included the move to remote delivery of all teaching modules, developing alternative assessments for students and ensuring that staff and students had the tools and resources they needed to continue their work.
“The innovation and ingenuity exhibited by our staff in response to this challenge has been truly remarkable. For many years the DKIT Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching has been at the forefront in developing blended learning and on line access to our programmes. This ensured that many of the building blocks and preparation for a situation requiring off campus delivery were in place an as a consequence within just one week. Our research centres, staff and postgraduate students continue to remain active by working remotely and all functional areas developed continency plans to ensure that essential services were uninterrupted (where possible) during this time.”
“As an institute we are highly resilient and are fortunate to have a highly talented workforce that has been able to pull together to navigate this emergency in the interest of our students and our region.”
Ensuring Academic Continuity for Current Students
From a student perspective, the institute immediately prioritised plans to ensure that all registered students can progress to their next academic year or enable graduation as appropriate.
“Our academic teams worked closely with our Centre of Learning & Teaching (CELT), Academic Affairs and Students Union to ensure that decision-making around assessments is fair and student-centred while also preserving the academic integrity of results awarded.”
Considerations around mode of assessment, academic integrity, quality, fairness to our students, additional support for students with a disability and compliance with regulatory bodies have all been reviewed.
“We are acutely aware that our students have been deeply impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and I would personally like to thank each of them for their patience and cooperation throughout this period of adjustment. We remain committed to ensuring that no DkIT student faces any form of academic disadvantage as result of the COVID-19 outbreak.”
In an effort to reassure students during this rapidly evolving situation, DkIT increased communications by developing an online information portal (www.dkit.ie/covid19) relating to COVID-19 developments, in addition to a weekly newsletter with updates on student issues, institute news and the latest guidance from the Government and the HSE.
DkIT also conducted an institute-wide student survey to identify areas where we can improve support for our students at this time and gather their feedback on the current arrangements. Critical student services such as counselling, pastoral care, student finance and careers guidance remain in high demand by students via remote delivery.
Supporting Our International Students
DkIT is a global campus with more than 600 international students from more than 25 countries worldwide.
“We recognise that this a deeply unsettling period for our international students. Some decided to return home to complete their studies remotely while others remain in Ireland, separated from their families and friends. In addition to continuing academic support and pastoral care services, our International office has been contacting each student individually each week to assess their individual needs and offer additional supports. The families of these students have been most appreciative of this added-level of care.”
The Outlook for Prospective Students
As the institute looks ahead to the next academic year, it is eager to provide reassurance to prospective students of its commitment to assist their smooth transition to becoming a DkIT students.
“In light of recent announcements in relation state examinations, it is likely that there will be changes to undergraduate admissions schedules and we continue to work closely with the Central Applications Office to ensure we are work in line with all adjustments.”
The institute’s unique border location means it continues to receive a significant number of applications from prospective students in Northern Ireland, as well as the Republic of Ireland. The international office is also actively engaged with applicants from abroad and continue to support them throughout this period of uncertainty.
“We remain committed to ensuring that applicants will continue to have equal access to quality higher education from all jurisdictions. In order to support prospective students at this time, we have organised a number of Virtual Open Days to answer any questions about admissions procedures or DkIT courses that they have at this time. The first of these events take place on the 21st April and 6th May for undergraduate applicants and registration is available via: virtualopenday.dkit.ie
Over the coming weeks, we will be announcing further virtual events for mature applicants, part-time, postgraduate and international applicants.”
Planning for the Future
In line with the Government’s most recent announcement, the institute has confirmed that its campus remains closed to students and staff until the 5th May 2020.
“We are aware that there is a possibility that this closure could be extended and contingency plans have been established to ensure that all students can complete this academic semester without disruption through remote means, if this is required. We continue to carefully monitor this situation and further updates will be provided as necessary.”
However this does not mean that the campus is empty and during the period of campus closure, the institute has partnered with the HSE and An Garda Síochána to support the national effort to combat the pandemic. Parts of the campus have been temporarily redeployed to facilitate the HSE’s regional testing operation and training requirements. This is an ongoing situation and the DkIT campus is always available to play its continuing supporting role to local and national government in this public health challenge. Various members of staff have also offered their unique skills and expertise to support the national response.
“I am also immensely proud of our fourth year nursing and midwifery students who are working at the frontline of this pandemic as they complete as part of their final clinical internship. They are joined my thousands of our former graduates from a variety of programmes that we know are also playing a critical role as frontline workers. We are grateful for their vital contribution to their community at this time.”
Despite some disruption due to COVID-19, the institute continues to look ahead to the future and progress plans to achieve Technological University status.
“Over the coming weeks, we will officially launch our new Strategic Plan 2020-22 which clearly articulates our ambition to become a Technology University in the near future. We are currently evaluating options for our most suitable partners from within the sector and we look forward to making an announcement on this in due course. However, our current focus remains primarily on ensuring the delivery to our current students is maintained.”