Universities able to choose own maximum lecture sizes – Harris

The Minister for Higher Education indicated that third-level institutions may be able to take a range of approaches to reopening in September

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has said that individual universities will be able to “use discretion” on maximum lecture sizes, RTÉ has reported.

Harris was speaking during a visit to Kickham Barracks in Clonmel, which is being redeveloped to include part of the Technological University being created from Limerick Institute of Technology (IT) and Athlone IT.

“When it comes to lecture halls, each of the universities will have to look at the facilities they have and how do they make those facilities safe,” said the minister. “There isn’t a one-size fits all option, because universities and colleges aren’t all the same shapes and sizes.”

“Each university and college has an obligation to put a plan together to keep their own students and staff safe.”

Harris went on to say that universities may adopt a range of restrictions when teaching returns in September, including limiting the length of classes, using carbon dioxide monitors, and limiting capacity.

The news comes as Trinity plans for in-person lectures no larger than 150 students, with many schools setting their limits much lower, at the same time as UCD plans for no size limits whatsoever.

The minister also stressed the importance of having students and staff “safely back to college campuses”. Harris has repeatedly said that there will be some measure of in-person college experience for every student during an “overwhelmingly…on-site” semester, a sentiment echoed by Provost Linda Doyle.

Harris continued: “College was never meant to be about just looking down a Zoom lens, and obviously certain things had to be done to keep people safe, but we are in a very different space now in terms of the pandemic, thanks to vaccination and thanks to the fact that I think we have all learned an awful lot about Covid.”

A “comprehensive” government plan for the next phase of the pandemic, including more details about instructions for third-level institutions, is to be published on August 31.

Trinity has said on numerous occasions that it is waiting for government guidance to announce the finer details of its plan for Michaelmas Term. Harris’ latest comments are the first indication that has so far been given about the level of autonomy universities will be afforded in making such decisions.

Harris has also said that extracurricular activities will be able to operate during the coming semester. This is again a sentiment that has been echoed by Doyle.

However, the Central Societies Committee informed its member institutions on Friday (August 20) that only outdoor events will be permitted for the foreseeable future, and strictly online events only before Freshers’ Week begins on Monday September 20.

Jack Kennedy

Jack Kennedy is the Editor-in-chief of the 68th edition of Trinity News. He is a Computer & Electronic Engineering graduate, and a former Assistant Editor, Online Editor, and Deputy Online Editor.