Higher-level institutions have joined to announce their plans for a safe return to campuses this September with maximum on-site presence.

The coordinated approach by colleges represented by the Irish Universities Association (IUA), the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA), and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) has the support and endorsement of the government and the public health authorities.

The approach from the HEIs builds on the Safe Return Plan published by Department for Higher Education, Research, Innovation, and Science last June and outlines the range of mitigation measures that will be implemented across the sector to provide for safe reopening. It will also classify Higher Education as an essential service.

Chair of the THEA, Professor Vincent Cunnane, said, “We are delighted to be bringing back significantly greater numbers of students for the coming Academic Year…I would urge all students to avail of the opportunity to get vaccinated to add to that level of confidence and to allow for a full student experience for the upcoming term.”

This news comes after the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, announced that the government will be putting €105 million in state funds towards further education and an additional €21 million for student supports.

Harris stated; “This past 18 months has been a really difficult time for students, particularly those vulnerable learners. Covid-19 has had an effect on many people’s mental health. We need to ensure our students are supported as they get back to campus.”

The Plan for a Safe Return On-Site includes in-person lectures but with modified numbers and other mitigation measures put in place, however, the specific measures that will be put in place at UCD are still unknown. Harris insists that even if there is a rise in cases, colleges should still experience significant on-site attendance as contingency plans have been put in place to avoid an academic year like the last.

Emma Hanrahan – Deputy News Editor