Harris publishes plan confirming “overwhelming” return to campus in September

Harris has said that “the college experience will return for everyone from September” with activities being “overwhelmingly…on site from the new academic year”

Students are expected to make a long-awaited return to college campuses in September, government has confirmed with the publication of a new plan this afternoon. 

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Innovation and Research Simon Harris has confirmed that students will be back on college campuses in the new academic year.

In an announcement this afternoon, Harris said that “college experience will return for everyone from September” and actives will “overwhelmingly be on site from the new academic year”.

Harris continued that his plan to get college students back on campus has been endorsed by the public health experts including the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Tony Holohan. 

He also expects the “overwhelming” majority of students will be vaccinated by upcoming academic year. 

Harris plans to release more details on the government’s position on how and if large scale lectures can take place in July. He said that planning will be on the “maximum” level for now.

Harris was asked on the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions on students’ social lives and “hooking up”. He responded saying that government doesn’t have advice for student’s private lives but he will check the plan on that. 

Harris also confirmed that bars on college campuses will be allowed to open if bars elsewhere can.

In a statement this afternoon, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) welcomed the publication of the plan for a safe return for further and higher education and research next year. 

The IUA’s statement explained : “Universities can now plan with confidence for this comprehensive return to campus for the next academic year while obviously maintaining the need for contingency planning in case of an unexpected reversal of current improvements in the public health situation.”

They highlighted the phased return to normal activity on campus over the summer months as being “especially welcome” as it will allow “research, both by staff and students and other normal on-campus summer academic activity to resume fully, and to ensure preparations are fully in place for the next academic year”.

Chair of the IUA and President of National University of Ireland Galway, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, said: “The health and safety of our university communities has always been paramount in all our planning for education throughout the pandemic and universities are working closely with government to ensure that focus is maintained.”

“By learning from the experiences of our students, our staff and our stakeholders, by listening to their voices and by adhering to the advice of our public health experts, our aim is for a return to a safe on-campus education which is as normal and fulfilling as possible in the context of Covid-19,” he continued.

In a press release this afternoon Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President Lorna Fitzpatrick welcomed the plan saying students are “extremely keen to get back on campus as soon as possible but know it must be in a safe manner”.

She emphasised the importance of funding the return to campus saying that it is “extremely important that funding is made available to support this return, particularly for student wellbeing and engagement”.

“As outlined in this plan, there also must be provisions made for vulnerable students who may still have health concerns in the autumn” she continued. She said that USI are “very supportive of aspects of blended learning – such as recorded lectures – being retained into the future for those who need them, such as students with disabilities and those with caring responsibilities”.
“Ensuring that young people and students are vaccinated will be an important part of ensuring this plan can go ahead,” Fitzpatrick added.

Colleges have been shut for the majority of on-site activity since March 2020. On-site activity has been restricted to essential labs, research and library access.

This article was updated at 7:15pm on 15/06/21 to include quotes from Fitzpatrick. 

Kate Henshaw

Kate Henshaw is current Editor-in-Chief of Trinity News, and a graduate of Sociology and Social Policy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.