Cancelling ag students’ work placements due to Covid-19 ‘would be the last resort’

Cancelling work placements for students on agricultural courses in third-level institutions due to Covid-19 has been considered “the last resort”.

AgriLand investigated concerns that placements might not go ahead next semester, however, from reaching out to a number of third-level colleges that offer agricultural courses with work placements, this is not something for students and employers to be particularly concerned about, as things stands.

Students have lost out on many things since this pandemic hit and colleges, universities and other educational settings seem determined that students would not miss out on getting practical experience.

Under the highest level of restrictions – Level 5 of the Plan for Living with Covid-19 – “skills and experiential learning for disciplines related to essential services” is allowed to continue.

‘It certainly would be the last resort to cancel placements’

Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) says that, currently, “there are no plans for cancellations” of placements for students on the Bachelor of Science in Agriculture.

The Level 8 course is a collaborative programme delivered in conjunction with Teagasc, Ballyhaise Agricultural College, Co. Cavan.

A spokesperson for DkIT told AgriLand:

“Currently, there are no plans for cancellations of placements. In fact, most of our programmes have been rejigged to further provide for it. There have been no discussions about cancelling them.

“Of course, we are all waiting with bated breath for what’s going to happen next year. Who knows, due to the ongoing situation?”

The farm placements for second year students begin in March, and placements for third years begin in May/June.

“This is something that, at the minute, we are trying to manage as best as possible and we don’t want to say yes, it’s 100% going to happen, or no.

“We don’t know – we are currently working with the government restrictions. If changes need to be made, they would be made.

There are probably rumours and suspicions out there as to whether things will change, but it’s all speculation at the minute.

“It’s in our interest to continue that because it’s easier to manage in terms of the academic accreditation and all that comes along with it. It would become extremely challenging. It certainly would be the last resort to cancel placements.

“It was a shame last [academic] year to have to cancel placements for agriculture students and I know our academic staff were upset that it was the case, as it is so important for students to get out to get that experience.”

‘The university is working to provide that certainty as soon as possible’

A number of other colleges reiterated a similar strategy, with University College Dublin’s (UCD) School of Agriculture and Food Science telling AgriLand that professional work experience is a “key learning experience for students” and that it will proceed in the coming year (2021).

However, unsurprisingly, it is “expected that international placement opportunities may be significantly curtailed” according to a spokesperson.

“As per previous years, we are experiencing strong demand for our students from our industry partners and students are currently finalising details of their placements, which will commence at various stages from January 2021.”

The spokesperson added that all placements will be in line with Covid-19 public health guidelines.

The Institute of Technology Tralee (IT Tralee) also said that it “all seems positive” when it comes to placements due to begin in the new year and that students “are all looking forward to getting out there”.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway) said that it is “considering its approach to the remainder of the academic year”.

“The university is working to provide that certainty as soon as possible and we will ensure that activities for semester two will be in line with public health guidance at that time.”