Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has said that it is his expectation that the Covid-19 vaccine portal will open for 16 and 17-year-olds from early August.
Mr Harris said being vaccinated against the virus is not a requirement to go to third-level education in September but he would encourage students to receive the vaccine.
The minister said given the Covid-19 mRNA vaccine portal has opened for over-18s, it should mean the country is on track to have the “overwhelming majority of adults” fully vaccinated by the end of August.
Mr Harris was addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science on Thursday alongside the Minister of State Niall Collins.
He said he would like to see the Covid-19 vaccine portal open “as quickly as possible” for 16 to 17-year-olds, as many of them could be college students from September.
“Also, we are seeing a particular spike in cases among 16 and 17-year-olds and it would be great if early in August we could see the portal open for 16 and 17-year-olds and that’s my expectation, that that will happen,” Mr Harris said.
Mr Harris said in relation to English language schools that there should not be any new students recruited into the sector and that schools can opt to remain closed if they so wish.
English language schools could reopen for in-person classes from last Monday, July 19th, following an announcement from the Department of Higher Education.
“I’m not telling English language schools you must open, they may opt to remain closed, they may opt to provide blended learning or to continue to operate wholly online and the resumption of in person activity is subject to there being no deterioration in the public health situation nor change to any public health advices which I’ve yet to receive,” Mr Harris said.
‘Conservative stepping stone’
“We see as this as a very small cautious conservative stepping stone on a pathway to broader recovery .
“There has been a voluntary moratorium in place in relation to recruitment of new students and let me be really clear, I do not want to see new students recruited into the English language education sector currently. I would like us to get to that point, we’re not at that point yet.
“If there were breaches of that, I would view that very seriously, I would view it as a breach of faith in terms of the agreement that we have with the sector and I would act accordingly.”
In his opening statement to the committee, Mr Harris said “we can not have another year like last year” and it would be “not sustainable” for the further and higher education sector.
He said all students will have an on-site college experience next year and that there will be work to do to “catch up on backlogs”.
“Whereas last year, the presumption was learning would be online mainly, this year the presumption is learning will be mainly on-site. No doubt the prevailing public health guidelines will mean some learning is blended but for all students, no matter what they study, on-site learning and attendance will be available,” he said.
Teaching within lecture halls will take place on-site but this will depend on the room size and other factors, he said.
“There will be moderation in numbers and modification to normal practices.What I mean by this is for example, entry and exit; ventilation; or the length of time of on-site lectures,” the minister added.