Colleges plan to ‘maximise’ on campus experience for students

‘Vast majority’ of adults will have had opportunity to get vaccinated by September

Facemasks will be required in indoor on-site shared settings, universities said. Photograph: Getty

Facemasks will be required in indoor on-site shared settings, universities said. Photograph: Getty


Third-level colleges have said they are committed to “maximising” the on-campus experience for students and are now advanced in planning a return to campus next month.

Students have been urged to receive the Covid-19 vaccine ahead of the return to college.

The Irish Universities Association (IUA), the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) and RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences announced their plans for a “coordinated approach” to return to campuses this September.

The joint approach builds on the Safe Return Plan published by the Department of Further and Higher Education in June and outlines the range of mitigation measures that will be implemented across the sector to provide for safe reopening.

The colleges’ plan notes that “the vast majority, if not all adults”, including college students will have been offered the opportunity to be vaccinated by September.

It sets out that colleges must adhere to standard hygiene measures including hand hygiene and dispensers, sanitary hygiene, respiratory hygiene, cleaning and sanitisation procedures.

Facemasks will be required in indoor on-site shared settings.

Colleges must also manage lecture times flexibly where required to provide for controlled exit and entry to large lectures and to avoid congregation.

In addition, the plan sets out they must “actively manage large lecture theatres in particular”, either by applying percentage occupancy limits, setting a maximum class size, an upper limit on lecture length/ period of continuous occupancy or otherwise, depending on local context and risk assessment.

The guidelines state that third-level institutions must protect “through reasonable accommodation” any member of the research or learning community for whom vaccination is medically contravened.

They are advised to “promote fullest engagement” with the vaccination rollout “recognising that high levels of vaccination protect all”.

Colleges will also have to collaborate with the HSE to ensure rapid access to testing and vaccination, including on-site provision if practicable, “subject to such measures being approved by Government and the necessary resources and infrastructure provided.”

Chair of IUA and President of NUI Galway Prof Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, president of NUI Galway and chair of IUA, said “we are looking forward to welcoming our students back to our campuses”.

“We are determined to put in place all the measures advised by public health to make the return to campus safe and sustainable for our students, our staff and for society,” he said.

“A key element of this determination is personal as well as institutional responsibility and we urge all our students to take up the offer of a vaccination in good time for September.”

Prof Vincent Cunnane, chair of THEA, said “we are delighted to be bringing back significantly greater numbers of students for the coming academic year”.

“Building on the ‘Safe Return Plan’ provides confidence to students and staff. I would urge all students to avail of the opportunity to get vaccinated to add to that level of confidence and to allow for a full student experience for the upcoming term,” he said.