Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris has confirmed that on-campus teaching in Universities will be deemed essential under the new tighter Covid-19 restrictions, due to come into effect from Thursday,
Higher and Further Education will be deemed essential, provided that onsite presence is required, or in scenarios where coursework cannot be completed remotely.
The Cabinet met yesterday to rubber stamp the implementation of a Level-5 Nationwide lockdown which is due to last for the entirety of the month of November, in an attempt to combat the recent surge in coronavirus case numbers nationally.
Speaking about what last night’s developments mean for Third level institutes, Minister Harris said:
“Our further and higher education institutions have already moved classes primarily online, with student and staff welfare being of paramount importance. I want to pay tribute to the collective efforts of staff and students in continuing educational programmes in this way.
“We are now in a scenario where Ireland as a whole must move to Level 5 of the Government’s plan for living with Covid, and that means that all further and higher education institutions should continue to deliver the vast majority of classes online.
“The Level 5 measures announced last night designate higher and further education as essential insofar as onsite presence is required and such education activities cannot be held remotely. “
The Minister stated that classification of what would be deemed essential for on-campus teaching will be determined by each institution individually, but mentioned teaching and research in laboratories, small group learning with learners whose particular needs require additional support and scheduled access to libraries and other onsite study space for those students who do not otherwise have suitable facilities or home environment to access learning remotely as potential parameters for essential on campus learning.
Added to these, research activities which cannot be undertaken remotely were also coined by Minister Harris as examples of essential work for on campus access.
Onsite mental health services on campus were also deemed among the services classified as essential by the Minister.
On-Campus accommodation complexes will be permitted to stay open under the new rules, but visitors will not be permitted in line with the current restrictions.
Harris encouraged students to avoid public transport were possible if they are traveling to University.
Speaking to SIN, Student’s Union Welfare and Equality Officer Róisín Nic Lochlainn welcomed the announcement from the Minister, praising it for for providing a degree of clarity for students.
“I think it’s good that Simon Harris has officially said that some teaching should be on campus where they can be. It’s giving students some sort of an on-campus experience. It’s good that he has concretely said what can and can’t happen”.
Nic Lochlainn did however express her disappointment that issues relating to private student accommodation were not addressed by the Minister.
“It is disappointing that Minister Harris didn’t mention anything about private student accommodation or anything about refunds for students. “
“It’s a shame that there is no clarity over accommodation, which is probably the biggest issue affecting students right now”, she said.
She also welcomed the inclusion of mental health services on campus as an essential service which she says will give students in counselling more comfort.
“It’s good that he has said something concrete about that , something that we were fighting for was for the counselling service to have specific rooms on campus for students who don’t have any privacy at home and don’t have any comfortable safe spaces to have a counselling Zoom or phone call.
Hopefully, that will push the University to get those rooms on campus because that’s something we need for students who don’t have any privacy in their homes “.