Colleges map out plans for safe return to campus

Colleges map out plans for safe return to campus

An empty campus at the University of Limerick during lockdown. File picture: Brian Arthur

Colleges have committed to “maximising” time on campus this year for students, due to the successes of the vaccine rollout and the “overwhelming desire” to get students back on campus.

With higher education now nominated by Government as an essential service, higher education institutions are planning for a return to campus this September with “maximum” on-site presence.

Initial plans published earlier this summer signalled to students that, at the very least, they could expect to spend some time on campus this year, through workshops, tutorials, and smaller lectures.

Now, higher education institutions have laid out further details of their plans in ‘Implementing a Safe Return to Campus’, a sector-wide approach for the coming academic year.

The document was published on Tuesday by the Irish Universities Association (IUA), the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA), and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). The strategy includes a number of commitments to students, with each institution to adapt their specific response to match their own physical infrastructure.

Strategy

The strategy is underpinned by three pillars: higher education operating as an essential service; the “overwhelming desire” of students for a return to on-campus learning; and the fact the majority of adults will have been offered a vaccine by September.

According to the strategy, the public health risks of time on campus this academic year will be balanced “against the known pedagogical, student experience, and mental health benefits.” 

The plan notes that institutions will accept the protocol is fashioned to afford a sustainable year on campus, and “that it is reasonably anticipated that the public health context will evolve as the year progresses”. 

"It is calibrated to address not just one but all scenarios which can reasonably be anticipated." 

It also includes a commitment that the needs of students will be considered regardless of level, year, or discipline of study.

Institutions will also ensure all campus operations adhere to public health measures. They will also work to optimise ventilation systems, and manage timetables to avoid congregation.

Institutions will also “actively manage large lecture theatres” by applying percentage occupancy limits, setting a maximum class size, or through setting an upper limit on lecture length, depending on local context and risk assessment.

Extra supports for students

Institutions will also continue to provide specific extra supports for students where required, and protect "through reasonable accommodation" any member of the research or learning community for whom vaccination is medically contravened.

Prof Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, chair of IUA and president of NUI Galway, said: “We are determined to put in place all the measures advised by public health to make the return to campus safe and sustainable for our students, our staff and for society. A key element of this determination is personal as well as institutional responsibility and we urge all our students to take up the offer of a vaccination in good time for September.”

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