Third-level students have been ordered to remain at home for the next three weeks and conduct their studies online.
The country’s 43 third-level institutions have been placed at Level 3 of the Covid-19 alert system from midnight, the Government has ordered.
As a result, while college campuses will remain open, all lectures and most tutorials will take place online in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said all universities and institutes of technology will be placed in a restricted scenario for up to three weeks.
He said students will be encouraged to remain at home rather than travel to their campus.
Libraries and laboratories in colleges are expected to remain open. All social activities on campus have been suspended.
Mr Harris said the decision was grounded on the experience in other jurisdictions where there were significant increases in coronavirus cases after third-level colleges reopened.
He said: “Notwithstanding all the protective measures that have been put in place by our higher-level institutions, you will appreciate there is now a growing concern about the impact the recommencement on campus of [student] activity will have on the very fragile epidemiological situation that pertains at present.”
“You do not have to look too far from these shores to the UK in this regard, and also to the US and other European countries,” Mr Harris said.
He said the Level 3 status meant that for the next few weeks, higher-level colleges would provide their education largely online, although there would be scope for libraries and laboratories to remain open.
Responding to the announcement, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) said:
- Universities will use discretion when deciding between onsite and remote for the scheduling of activities and will favour remote delivery where possible;
- On-campus teaching will be minimised with priority given to teaching and learning that can only take place on-site;
- It will also include limited planned on-site attendance for other priority student cohorts. This may include small tutorials and elements of first-year orientation/induction which cannot be undertaken on line, so long as these are conducted on a staggered basis to avoid congregation or large on-site attendances;
- University libraries will remain open with strict social distancing protocols and entry registration. All research activities will continue as normal;
- Social/club activities on-campus will be suspended until further notice. Universities will also enhance any protection measures such as more extensive wearing of face masks in certain settings.