Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has spoken to University Chiefs over COVID-19 outbreaks amongst college students in Galway and Limerick which may delay the return to on-campus learning

Minutes Released by Department officials after the meeting have outlined that the return of college students to on-campus accommodation with no face-to-face contact hours was a major concern, with recent behaviours having the potential to influence the policy that will be implemented in the coming academic year.

The report also noted that while the Minister called for students to ensure they were doing their best to stick to government guidelines, he felt that the criticism towards them in recent weeks has been excessive at times.

The Minister and the USI have been in regular contact in recent weeks to try devise a strategy as to how on-campus activity will restart next semester.

USI President, Lorna Fitzpatrick, mentioned that neither Minister Harris nor other department officials have directly addressed the issues of re-opening during these meetings.

She said, “We haven’t had any engagement with the minister or the department in relation to planning for the next semester and I think that is something that needs to happen very quickly,”

“We are calling on the minister and the department to engage directly with USI on those plans for the next academic year to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard in those discussions.”

A spokesperson for the minister later responded that the formulation of such plans are in fact underway but that nothing can be formally announced until May.

He added that there is a broad desire to increase on-campus activity so that it aligns with the TES (Tertiary Education System) guidelines as much as would be possible, but their options will be limited by evolving public health guidelines.

President of the Irish Students Society, Jim Miley, has expressed confidence in the belief that students will be returning to campuses next semester, but also encouraged students to adhere to guidelines as much as possible.

“The overwhelming majority of students are playing by the rules and they are keeping themselves, their friends and their families safe but unfortunately there is a very small minority who have behaved recklessly and we would appeal to all students to please stay with the programme for just another while.

“There is now light at the end of the tunnel, but we can only get there if everyone works to make this happen and this is about individual responsibility.”

Doireann O’Sullivan – Reporter