Third-level colleges will not require students and staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to access their campuses when they reopen in September.
However, they will need to show proof of vaccination in order to access indoor college canteens or bars, in line with wider public health rules.
A number of higher education sources confirmed that students will be urged to take up offers of a vaccination to ensure they can avail of the “full student experience”.
Hundreds of higher education institutions in the US have made vaccination mandatory for students, while some zero-Covid advocates have said it would be "perfectly reasonable" to do the same in Ireland.
Dr Tomás Ryan, a neuroscientist at Trinity and member of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group, said recently it was "not radical" to require students to be vaccinated.
“I don’t see how any university can expect to return to campus as normal. It’s not going to be like that. This will be a gradual process,” Dr Ryan said.
“We are going to have to see how the pandemic develops, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have mandatory vaccination for students wishing to participate in campus activities. It makes perfect sense.”
Senior third-level sources said on Tuesday that, while such steps have been considered, they felt a push to make it mandatory was not necessary given the success of the vaccination campaign so far.
The danger of creating a divisive requirement was cited as an issue by some, while others said such a move would raise legal questions and pose a barrier to learning.
However, medical and health students who wish to take part in clinical placements in Health Service Executive facilities are required to avail of Covid-19 vaccines if they are eligible to do so.
Colleges are planning to collaborate with the HSE to ensure rapid access to testing and vaccination, including on-site provision in some cases.
Under plans announced by third-level colleges last week, students will return to on-site lectures and tutorials next month. However, limits are likely to apply to the number who may attend and the time period allowed.
They said rapid progress in the vaccination programme has given a new level of confidence about maximising the return to higher education.
While each college is drawing up its own arrangements, agreement has been reached on a broad approach to a safe return to campus, taking account of public health advice.
Streaming to continue
Last year, the vast majority of college lectures took place online but the plan is for a “maximum on-site” presence from September.
Many colleges are planning to continue to stream and record large lectures online following positive feedback from students on being able to play back lectures.
The Irish Universities Association, the Technological Higher Education Association and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland announced the joint approach last week.
Their joint statement noted that the vast majority of adults and college students will have been offered the opportunity to be vaccinated by September.
They said “reasonable accommodation” would be made for any member of the research or learning community for whom vaccination is medically contravened.
Their implementation plan builds on other advice published by the Department of Further and Higher Education last June on the safe reopening of college campuses. This outlined mitigation measures that will be implemented including mask wearing in shared indoor settings, in accordance with public health advice.