Wednesday, 21 October 2020
Department of Education and Skills
209. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the engagements he has had with University College Dublin in relation to providing Covid-19 compliant accommodation to students on campus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32055/20]
210. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the engagements he has had with University College Dublin in relation to accommodation costs for students on campus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32056/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 209 and 210 together.
I am conscious of the challenges faced by students regarding student accommodation this year due to both financial pressures, and the blended learning format of the 2020/21 academic year.
Responding to these issues is a significant matter of concern for myself and for my colleague the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and we are examining how accommodation providers can be encouraged to show greater flexibility to students during this challenging time.
The Deputy will be aware that the university sector is already engaging with these issues. Following the decision to minimise on-site teaching, five of the seven universities, including UCD, have confirmed that students who do not wish to proceed with their booking in university-owned student accommodation can cancel it without charge, and those who opt to leave their accommodation will receive refunds.
The “Practical Guidance for Further and Higher Education for Returning to On-site Activity in 2020”, published by my Department in July contains some guidance for managing the risk of virus transmission in student accommodation settings. This was supplemented by “Implementation Guidelines for Public Health Measures in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)”, published in August, which were developed by public health experts from within the HEI sector and were endorsed by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) of the HSE.
Examples of the guidance provided include the provision of alternative accommodation for students who develop COVID-19 symptoms and need to self-isolate, and control of access to student accommodation, including restrictions on guests.