Several universities across the state are reporting rising dropout rates and a dramatic increase in demand for mental health supports as students struggle to transition from remote learning to in-person classes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19.
Academics have expressed concern over declining course attendance rates and weaker engagement with clubs and societies.
Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and other universities have confirmed that provisional figures show the number of students not completing their courses has increased.
It reverses a downward trend in dropout rates in recent years and comes as advisers at higher education institutions report record demand for services among students who feel disconnected from college.
Psychological Counselors in Higher Education Ireland, a representative body for third-level counseling services, estimates that demand for services has increased by 23-70% this year, due to the increase in cases in recent years.
Treasa Fox, spokesperson for the group, said anxiety, moodiness and loneliness are among the most common presentations.
“What we’re seeing on the ground, however, is that students are fed up with screens – most of their college experience has been on screen for the past two years,” she said. .
“And because of this remote experience, many feel unconnected to their university or college…many students languish, experience anxiety, low mood and low motivation to engage in academic work.”
Drop in attendance
Many academics have reported lower attendance rates at conferences, while student unions say involvement in clubs and societies is down significantly from previous years.
While official student drop-out or non-progress rates for the higher education sector have yet to be released, several universities have confirmed that more students are not completing their courses this year.
At TCD, student non-progress rates had dropped in recent years, falling to 7.8% in 2019, 7.2% in 2020, and 7% in 2021. This year, they dropped to 9.2%, according to the latest figures.
A number of other major universities have privately confirmed dropout rates above pre-pandemic levels.
The trend is less clear at other universities and institutes of technology, where some say dropout rates have remained broadly stable so far.
Trish Murphy, acting director of student counseling at TCD, said younger students, in particular, were struggling to adjust.
“Certainly for the first few years they experienced more isolation than normal cohorts, and adjusting to arrival in university social circles was accompanied by already heightened anxiety and stories of a lot less ties,” she said.
Senior scholars say the return of in-person exams has also proven to be a major challenge for some younger students. For many freshmen and sophomores, the exams last Christmas were the first high-stakes assessments they had taken since their Junior Cert.
Barbara Dooley, Deputy Registrar at University College Dublin, said a key management focus over the next year will be to emphasize the benefits of the on-campus student experience.
“University is more than just grades for modules; it’s about personal development and it happens on campus,” she said.