Each college to decide how to hold lectures safely, says minister

ireland
Each College To Decide How To Hold Lectures Safely, Says Minister Each College To Decide How To Hold Lectures Safely, Says Minister
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By Dominic McGrath and James Ward, PA

The higher education minister has said that it will be up to Irish colleges to determine how they can hold lectures safely in the coming academic year.

Speaking on Monday, Simon Harris indicated that the Government would not be prescribing a set of specific rules for how lectures should be held when students return to college in several weeks’ time.

“Going back to college will no doubt not be without challenge. Of course it won’t. But we can’t not get people back to college. And then we can’t have another year like we’ve had with our young people staying at home doing college at the corner of the kitchen table or in the box room,” Mr Harris said.

“When it comes to lecture halls, each of our universities will have to look at the facilities that they have and how do they make those facilities safe. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all option.”

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“Each university, each college, has an obligation put in place a plan to keep their staff and students safe, particularly in the lecture setting,” he said.

While Mr Harris said that universities cannot take a “carte blanche” approach, he said that it will be up to each institution to consider how often lectures are held, whether capacity should be reduced and how to improve ventilation.

“I can’t say one rigid rule around lectures because the Government has decided that education is essential,” he said.

Mr Harris also gave his backing to the return of in-person graduation ceremonies, if held under public health guidelines.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said.

This month, Trinity College Dublin held its first in-person graduation ceremony since the pandemic began, with the event taking place outdoors.

Mr Harris said: “I understand why there’s a nervousness at the moment in relation to cases. And it’s important that we’re all extremely vigilant. It’s important that everyone follows the public health advice. But it’s also important when you’re in a country where so many people have been vaccinated that we believe in vaccines, that you work to get back to life as well.”

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Earlier, Nphet’s Prof Philip Nolan said that students will return to a “near normal” third level experience when colleges reopen in September.

Prof Nolan, a public health expert and president of Maynooth University, said some mitigations such as mask wearing and distancing measures will remain.

Ireland will have 90% of its adult population fully vaccinated by mid-September, an “extraordinary achievement” that will offer “very high levels of protection”, Prof Nolan said.

 

“It is a priority for us as citizens, as advisers, as educators to reopen schools and to allow students to return to a near-normal third level experience,” he said.

“It won’t be fully normal, we’ll be using masks as an important mitigation.

“There will be some really large classes that will remain online, largely to slightly reduce the number of students on campus on any given day.

“But personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing students again in person, to teaching them in person.

“I taught online for the last two years, and it worked.

“But it’s simply not the same as being able to see and interact with the people you’re talking to.”

Vaccinations are currently being administered to the 12 to 15 year-old cohort, with around half of the 280,000 children in the age category having registered for a vaccine.

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Prof Nolan said it was “always expected” that take up would be lower in those age categories, as parents weigh up the risks and benefits of vaccinating their children.

“We strongly encourage it.

“The risks are very low and the benefits very significant” he told RTE’s Morning Ireland.

“But we always anticipated that it would be a slower process for 12 to 16-year-olds to take up the vaccination.

“The important thing is we’re seeing this extraordinary high level of uptake in the adult population, and in the population over 16.”

He added: “We’re well on target to have probably around 90% of the adult population protected towards the middle of September and that will be an extraordinary achievement for the vaccination programme, and an extraordinary achievement for the country.

“It will offers very high levels of protection from mid September onwards.”

Nphet meets on Wednesday to consider its latest advice to Government ahead of the publication of a road map for the lifting of further pandemic restrictions next week.

Prof Nolan said the high level of vaccination means a plan will be needed for the formal lifting of restrictions, but said “low cost measures” such as mask wearing and self isolating could remain.

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He said: “In public health terms the advice is what the advice always has been, that we need to achieve very high levels of vaccination protection in the population, and we are achieving that.

“We are absolutely on track to exceed our expectations.

“We need to ensure the level of disease in the population is under control and we need to strongly advise people.

“Restrictions will fall away, so we have to prepare a plan with that high level of vaccine protection to, over time, remove those remaining kind of formal restrictions that are upon us.

“But we will need to retain in place those very basic low cost measures, and a fundamental shift in our behaviour.

“If you have the symptoms of this disease, you self isolate and you don’t in any way run the risk of infecting another person.”

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