Poor broadband coverage remains an issue for huge numbers of students as a new research projects finds some one-in-six third level students come from areas with poor broadband.
It has raised questions about connectivity constraints and blended learning at third level.
With more courses now to be delivered online due to the pandemic, initial research has found a significant number of college students come from areas with poor broadband coverage.
More students are expected to reside at home this year given the emphasis on blended learning and the limited face-to-face classes expected at many universities and institutes of technology.
Carried out by researchers at NUI Galway, the University of Limerick (UL), and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ERSI), the joint project found considerable differences in accessibility to broadband for students across institutions.
- Students with the lowest levels of accessibility tend to be more disadvantaged socioeconomically.;
- Those most at risk of connectivity issues are based mainly in the West, or in the Midlands;
- The eight institutions with the lowest number of 'at-risk' students are located in Dublin, where broadband quality is high.
Researchers combined national data on the home address of students enrolled in Irish higher education institutions with detailed spatial data on broadband coverage to estimate the proportion of students at risk of poor accessibility to high-quality internet connectivity if living at home.
Poor broadband is defined as less than 50% of residential addresses having accessibility to high-quality broadband.
Almost one-third (33%) of students at St. Angela's College in Sligo have a home address in such areas, and 29% of students at IT Sligo.
At Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), more than one in five (22.7%) students have a home address in an area with poor broadband coverage. Last month, WIT told students that all lectures, tutorials and practical classes will be conducted remotely for the 2020/21 academic year.
At Mary Immaculate College in Limerick and GMIT, 26.8% of students have home addresses in areas with poor broadband coverage. At the University of Limerick, almost one in four students (24.7%) come from an area with poor broadband coverage.
At Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), almost one fifth (19.7%) of students live somewhere with poor broadband coverage, and IT Tralee has one in five students who come from an area with poor broadband.
Led by John Cullinan and Darragh Flannery, the research team notes internet connectivity may impact the type of online learning that can be delivered or constrain certain groups of students in fully taking part.
One implication of this study, the authors note, is that some institutions may need to adjust their online approach and help support at-risk students.
"For example, higher education institutions could prioritise and facilitate access to campus facilities, including accommodation, for disadvantaged students from poor broadband connectivity areas."