University teachers call for cohesive national health and safety policy

Lack of clarity surrounding cohesive protocols could lead to “inferior health and safety protection”

On November 22, the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) released a statement calling for a cohesive nation-wide health and safety policy for third-level education in the New Year. 

General Secretary of IFUT Joan Donegan commented that vague minimum requirements could leave members of universities “exposed to inferior health and safety protection.” 

College administrations are having to reconsider their current teaching strategies and the possibility of an expansion of in-person teaching due to the coming exit from Level 5 restriction. 

However, as the level of restriction is uncertain in the next calendar year and colleges lack stringent health and safety requirements and recommendations from the government, different colleges’ plans are diverging. 

Donegan highlighted the key issue of social distancing with in-person teaching: some college administrations are planning around the rule of two metres, whereas others are planning around one metre or no space between students. 

The statement also noted that the sudden transition to online education this term has already been costly in terms of time for university students and staff, and that making further changes to the method of instruction will require even more of their time. 

Donegan called for an ongoing consultation process to enable a sustainable transition to on-campus teaching. This call parallels IFUT’s April 27 statement in which they recommended a process of consultation to improve clarity and warned that “students and staff alike are being left in ongoing limbo”. 

On 9 November, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris announced a €5 million fund for investment in online education innovation after consultation with the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, following the November 2 announcement of a €15 million fund for capital works and equipment in universities. 

As of yet, there have been no reports of a consultation process regarding health and safety guidelines in third-level education. 

Connie Roughan

Connie Roughan is the Unions Correspondent for Trinity News and a Senior Fresh BESS student.