Simon Harris meets with TCDSU to discuss campus return

Harris said that the resumption of club and society events is “essential”.

Yesterday, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris visited Trinity to discuss the return of students to campus.

Harris met with Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Leah Keogh and Education Officer Bev Genockey. On social media, Keogh described the meeting as “productive” and said they discussed “the importance of co-curricular activities being deemed essential…to promote student mental health”.

“We’re working hard to get you back on campus safely”, she continued.

Speaking to Trinity News, Genockey said “our meeting today with minister Harris was brief but productive. However, we did have the chance to discuss the return to campus – teaching and learning, as well as clubs and society events”.

Genockey explained that Harris “emphasised his commitment to the return of in-person teaching” and reiterated previous statements regarding reopening, that where elements of society reopen, their college equivalents should be permitted.

“University rules should be aligned with government guidelines” and “based on the public health advice at the time”.

In the meeting, Harris specified that “student life – such as clubs and societies – should be treated as essential and given the same level of priority as the return to in-person teaching”.

Genockey noted that currently there are “no confirmed plans for the return to Trinity in September”, but TCDSU “continues to sit on several college committees representing the student voice in these discussions”.

They “are committed to working to ensure the safe and valuable return to campus for students” and “will be meeting again [with Harris] later in August to further discuss reopening”.

In June, Harris announced the government’s plan for the reopening of higher education. He said that the “college experience will return for everyone” and activities will “overwhelmingly be on-site from the new academic year”.

According to the plan, a return of all students to campus did not depend on all students being vaccinated by then.

Speaking to the Oireachtas Committee of, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science last week, Harris said that large scale lectures were unlikely to return initially in September. However, Harris emphasised that every student would have some portion of on-campus learning.

The minister told the committee that on-site learning will include “at a very minimum” tutorials, workshops, smaller lectures, classroom-based learning, laboratory sessions and library access.

He also said that other university activities, including sports, bars, clubs and societies, will “operate in line with prevailing public health advice”.

When announcing the plan in June, Harris explained: “if the pub near the college is open, the bar in the college can be open. If the cafe across the road from the college is open, the canteen in the college can be open.”

Last week, Harris also announced a €105m government package to assist higher education institutions with the return to campuses, including €3m for mental-health services and €10m to support students facing financial difficulty.

A decision on large-scale lectures was expected to be confirmed by July.

Sarah Emerson

Sarah Emerson is currently a Deputy News Editor of Trinity News. She is a Senior Sophister English Literature and Jewish and Islamic Civilizations Student.