Simon Harris: Now is not the time 'to tell young people not to socialise'

'People of all ages need to use their judgement and use their cop-on,' the minister says
Simon Harris: Now is not the time 'to tell young people not to socialise'

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris does not envisage a scenario where students would be forced to leave college campuses again.

The Higher Education Minister says that it is "not for the Government to tell young people not to socialise".

Simon Harris was speaking as the numbers of Covid cases among 18- to 24-year-olds remains high. However, he said that he would not encourage young people not to socialise because the Government policy is that nightclubs and other venues are open.

"It's not for the Government to stand at a podium and tell people how to live their social lives in a Living With Covid phase. I would still reiterate the call to those who are not fully vaccinated to do so. I've seen when I've gone to colleges is people coming forward every time we set up vaccination clinics.

People of all ages need to use their judgment, use their cop on. We know where the virus spreads, but I think the young people of this country have been extraordinary in what they've sacrificed.

Mr Harris said that despite the rise in cases among younger people, he did not envisage a scenario where students would be forced to leave college campuses once again.

"I am extremely proud of how the third-level sector has reopened. You're talking about half a million people, so that's a big movement of people, one of the biggest reopenings and it happened in a relatively quiet way. The feedback has been that it has gone very well. Unlike lots of parts of society, we have ploughed on with antigen testing while others are debating if it has any merit.

I'm very confident that our colleges will remain open. We're trying to live with Covid and we're finding out that that is difficult. But the quid pro quo with vaccination was that we would get people back to as much normality as possible.

The minister said that campuses had been able to return because of a concerted effort across the board from staff and students, which included vaccination and antigen testing. He said that there has been too much reticence to use rapid testing and said that this was a problem across the Government.

"The buck always stops with the Government. I think this country has done an awful lot of things right, but there are some things that we've been slow on. I know when I was Minister for Health, we were slow on facemasks."

Mr Harris was speaking as he launched major changes to the CAO website, which he said he hoped would end the "national obsession with the points race".

The CAO website goes live today 12pm and for the first time options across the third level system will be visible to school leavers and other applicants from there.

“For the first time ever, the full range of third-level options will be visible to school-leavers from one single platform. This will change the conversation at kitchen tables across the country – one that reflects education is for everyone and there is no right or wrong choice, just different ones.

“This is a major step but it is one of many we intend to take to make our third level sector more inclusive and one that delivers for all students."

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