Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, has said that there is no plan to alter on-site learning for third-level students post-Christmas. The Irish Examiner reported that Harris has said: “it is absolutely the intention” of the Department of Higher Education to continue to provide face-to-face teaching and learning. 

This news comes after criticisms for primary schools having the highest infection rate of COVID-19. In contrast, Harris said that with the return of over 400,000 college students to on-campus learning, “we’ve seen very few outbreaks actually attributed to college life”.

Colleges will reopen as expected after the Christmas break as well as primary and secondary educational institutions despite the spike in infection rates amongst children. As of last week, students in these institutions will also be required to wear face masks in school, with scheduled breaks. 

Harris believes college campuses should be seen as “like any town” in that if students (with vaccine passes) are able to have a drink in a pub or play a football match in their town, they should be able to engage in those activities on campus too utilising the student bar and partake in societies and clubs. 

The government has provided a €9 million fund to aid colleges and universities to operate safely under COVID restrictions. This fund has been used to provide cheaper or free antigen tests, face masks and will also be used to fund better ventilation systems on campus to reduce the rate of infection. 

UniCoV, a randomised clinical study that involves students testing for COVID-19 twice weekly in order to research the benefits of testing regularly and also operates in University College Dublin (UCD) as well as Trinity College Dublin, NUI Galway and University College Cork has seen an uptake of 3,646 participants. However, only 560 of these participants are from UCD. UCD Students’ Union has encouraged students via tweet to get involved and avail of the free testing the project provides students with. 

Harris noted he has seen a change in people’s behaviour in order to not be in isolation on Christmas day as anyone diagnosed with a positive result in the coming days will have to spend the day in isolation. He stated “I think we are moving into the space of having to live alongside this farce. It’s not going to go away”

Mahnoor Choudhry, Co-Editor