Decision due soon on large lectures at third-level in September

If lectures go ahead ‘safety measures will need to be in place’, says Minister

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris also expects to have a decision on additional funding to help colleges return safely including resources for areas such as extra laboratory space Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris also expects to have a decision on additional funding to help colleges return safely including resources for areas such as extra laboratory space Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Government is likely to decide within the next two weeks whether third-level students will be able to attend larger-scale lectures when they return to college in September.

The Cabinet is expected to meet on July 19th when a decision is due to be made about large-scale lectures which in some universities can include up to 500 students.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris also expects to have a decision on additional funding to help colleges return safely including resources for areas such as extra laboratory space.

He said that “at a minimum, a student can expect to come back to campus for everything other than large-scale lectures. At a maximum, we will manage to bring back such lectures.”

If these lectures go ahead “safety measures will need to be in place, including rules around social distancing, face masks and ventilation, in accordance with prevailing public health advice”.

Mr Harris also told the Dáil that by autumn “and certainly before college resumes” they will make a decision on whether there will be a further roll out of rapid testing following a pilot programme underway at four third level institutions “where up to 8,000 staff and students are being tested twice a week with at least two different tests”. They will “see the benefits of that quite quickly”.

He was responding during education questions in the Dáil to Sinn Féin spokeswoman Rose Conway-Walsh. The Mayo TD had asked what additional funding colleges would get because higher education authorities “are taking on a huge responsibility in the reopening and the safe return to campus”.

Mr Harris said the Government has deemed on-site education “essential” and “our students and staff are going back to campus, but it has to be done in a safe way”.

His department’s document on a safe plan for the return to third level provides for “comprehensive on-site activity for the next academic year, with almost full-scale on-site activities”.

‘Significant’ activity

Under the plan, “larger scale lectures will take place on site if the public health situation allows. To be honest, that is the outstanding question and we said we would return to Cabinet, probably on July 19th, to make a determination on larger scale lectures.”

There will be “significant” on-site activity and “no matter what happens with Covid-19, we are getting them back to campus for certain activities”.

“That’s the difference between this year and last year,” with the success of the vaccination programme and the advice of the Chief Medical Officer.

Mr Harris said colleges should be seen as small towns and “the rules that would apply in any town should apply there as well”.

“Therefore, anything to do with rules around social distancing, ventilation, close contacts and how vaccinated people will be treated will all be based on the prevailing public health advice,” he said.

Ms Conway raised concerns about a number of situations such as where a student could be a close contact and she asked if they would have to isolate even if fully vaccinated.

She also asked what provision had been made for medically vulnerable students or those who have to isolate.

Mr Harris said he favoured recorded lectures, adding that he would like the institutions to engage with staff representatives on this.

He said there were “definitely benefits to recorded lectures for students who are medically vulnerable” and “possible benefits for any student who can benefit from both attending the lecture and being able to look back over the recording later”.