Thursday, 15 July 2021
Department of Education and Skills
The Government has committed to planning for a significant increase in on-site attendance in the tertiary education sector in the next academic year.
Following intensive consultation with sectoral stakeholders and Government approval, I published A Safe Return: Plan for a safe return to on-site Further and Higher Education and Research in 2021/22.
The Plan reflects the essential nature of higher and further education and training, and research activities, and in that context provides for comprehensive on-site activity for the next academic year, with almost full scale on-site activities. Institutions and providers in the sector have committed to ensuring that all learners across all areas have significant scheduled on-site learning in the forthcoming year.
The protection of and support for students and learners is one of the central tenets of the Plan whose purpose, among others, is to enable maximum provision of on-site activities, support the ongoing public health requirements, and support the ongoing needs of students and learners
Institutions and providers are currently progressing with their own detailed planning and work for a comprehensive return to on-site activity. This will include planning for orientation, re-orientation and transitions programmes to assist students in familiarising or re-familiarising themselves with the on-site environment and learning resources. Issues around supports for students returning to campus, and the need for resources to support these students, have been discussed by the Student and Learning Wellbeing and Engagement Working Group.
In the Plan, my Department commits to developing a funding proposal for agreement with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to support the sector in responding to specific costs and particular issues arising from the impact of the pandemic on for the tertiary sector and students. The proposal, building on the funding provided in 2020 under the Covid support package is intended to help enable the return to substantial on-site activity under this Plan.
Following the publication of COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery: The Path Ahead and in keeping with the Government’s objective of moving to a return to safe onsite provision in higher and further education, extensive planning has been undertaken by the sectoral stakeholders of the Covid-19 Working Group for the English language education (ELE) sector to prepare for the safe resumption of limited, small group, in-person provision to cater for the needs of this sector’s existing cohort of students currently in the State. This Working Group is comprised of the sectoral representatives of students, staff and providers alongside representatives of relevant Government Departments such as the Department of Justice, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Social Protection.
On the basis of these plans and subject to relevant conditions, limited in-person activity may begin to resume for the current cohort of students from 19th July 2021 where it is safe to do so.
In preparing to undertake the resumption of in-person activity, ELE providers should particularly be aware of and take account of the following key factors:
- There is no deterioration in the public health situation nor changes to public health advice/measures that would impact on this activity.
- The resumption of this activity is exclusively to cater for the needs of the existing cohort of ELE students currently in the State.
- This step should be taken in consultation with each provider’s staff and students.
- Subject to relevant conditions, providers may opt to remain closed, to provide blended learning or to continue operating wholly online.
- There continues to be no basis for the recruitment of new international studentsthat may seek to travel to the State at this time.
All existing restrictions and public health guidance with appropriate protective measures and limited congregation will need to be followed, supported by the sectoral reopening protocols and adaptation framework, to facilitate and ensure the safe return to some classroom-based activity for this cohort of students.
The resumption of in-person activity is a key stepping stone on the pathway to recovery for the ELE sector in Ireland. My Department looks forward to continued productive engagement with stakeholders to support the development of further plans which will enable the return of international student recruitment and the full re-opening of the sector in due course, aligned with public health guidelines.