Large scale lectures are not likely to initially return with a general reopening of campuses, an Oireachtas committee has heard today.
Speaking to the Oireachtas Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science today, Minister Simon Harris was nonetheless clear that some portion of learning would take place on-campus for every student. The minister also said that auxiliary activities on university grounds “such as sports, bars, canteens, clubs and societies will also operate in line with prevailing public health advice”.
“We all know we cannot have another year like last year in terms of our students and staff,” he said.
“It was necessary from a public health point of view but it is not sustainable. We need to get people back on site,” Harris continued. “Education and training is not just what you learn in a lecture theatre, it’s about how you learn and the experience of being with others.”
In June, Harris released the government’s plan for the reopening of higher education, in which he said college activities would be “overwhelmingly…on-site”.
Continuing his address to the committee, Harris said: “There are aspects of learning that can only be imparted in person. Many students and learners do better when they attend lectures. The plan means all students will have a college experience next year.”
“It may not be every lecture or workshop, the numbers in the library may need to be smaller and not all facilities will be open in the same way.”
He was emphatic, however, adding: “We are getting students back to college.”
“At a very minimum on-site learning will include laboratory teaching and learning, classroom-based learning, tutorials, workshops, smaller lectures, research, return to work spaces and access to libraries.”
Chair of the committee Paul Kehoe TD added: “It is of crucial importance that college campuses can reopen so that students can have a normal college experience, learning and mixing together again while feeling safe.”
The June plan said that returning all students to campus would not be contingent on near-total rates of vaccination among them. Yesterday (July 21), Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said vaccine rollout was proceeding “ahead of schedule” as he announced that anyone over the age of 18 could now register for any kind of shot.
Later that day, Harris announced a €105m government fund to assist higher education institutions with the return of students to campuses, including €3m for student mental health services.