College campus reopening plan to allow large lectures, sports activity and societies

Students to have monthly-payment option for accommodation in case of fourth wave

Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris is expected to bring plans for a higher education reopening framework to Cabinet next week. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris is expected to bring plans for a higher education reopening framework to Cabinet next week. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Large lecture theatres, sports facilities, bars and canteens are set to reopen in colleges and universities from September under a new framework being finalised by Government.

In addition, students will be given the option to pay monthly for accommodation in case there is a fourth wave of Covid-19. This is aimed at ensuring students and their families do not lose out on deposits or rent, as happened in some cases last year.

Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris is expected to bring plans for a higher education reopening framework to Cabinet next week which will provide additional funding to ensure college campuses can safely reopen in line with public health guidance.

Most lectures and college activity has been taking place online due to restrictions introduced last September. However, senior sources said the new framework allows for the reopening of campus to most activity from September.

Planning is being undertaken for larger lectures with modifications, including reducing the capacity of very large lecture halls and adjustments to the timetable to reduce the number of people on campus at any one time.

This is due to be finalised over the coming weeks but will be subject to restrictions similar to those that apply to cinemas and other settings, sources said.

In addition, laboratory teaching and learning, classroom-based teaching and learning, tutorials, workshops and smaller lectures will be permitted to reopen. While some of this has remained open during the 2020/21 academic year, it is likely to open on a much bigger scale across colleges and universities.

Workspaces and libraries are also set to reopen with fewer restrictions on numbers. Other on-campus facilities such as canteens, sports facilities and clubs and societies are due to reopen in accordance with public health advice. Bars, too, will be permitted to reopen in line with restrictions that apply elsewhere.

Accommodation

The plan also includes commitments regarding student accommodation if there is another wave of Covid-19. For example, college students will not be required to pay yearly accommodation costs upfront in new legislation to be considered by Government next week.

New legislation will remove the requirement for students to pay significant bills upfront for on campus education and will give them the option to pay monthly instead, significantly reducing the cost for students and their families.

Students will be required to give a month’s termination notice before vacating a property. At present, students can forfeit several months of rent if they vacate a property early.

It is planned that these measures will apply to renters in private accommodation also.

In addition, higher education institutions and providers will be required to provide for the needs of vulnerable or high-risk staff and students, and those who will remain at risk of infection, in line with public health advice.

Similar plans for the reopening of further education institutions are also being drafted, which would allow for similar measures.

The Irish Universities Association is seeking a significant increase in staff numbers, meanwhile, to meet the needs of growing numbers of students.

The number of permanent staff at third-level was capped in 2008 to about 19,000 when there were 155,000 students.

The association said this staffing figure remained broadly the same last year even though student numbers have grown to 213,000.