Thursday, July 22, 2021

By Cate McCurry, PA

Limits on the number of people attending college lectures will mean some blended learning will continue into the next academic year, Simon Harris has said.

The Minister for Higher Education vowed that every student will be on campus when college resumes but said there will be moderation in some class numbers.

Mr Harris told the Oireachtas education committee that while online learning was necessary over the last year, it was not sustainable.

“We all know we cannot have another year like last year in terms of our students and staff,” he added.

“It was necessary from a public health point of view but it is not sustainable. We need to get people back on site.

“Education and training is not just what you learn in a lecture theatre, it’s about how you learn and the experience of being with others.

“There are aspects of learning that can only be imparted in person. Many students and learners do better when they attend lectures. The plans means all students will have a college experience next year.

“It may not be every lecture or workshop, the numbers in the library may need to be smaller and not all facilities will be open in the same way they are like those which opened differently in towns and villages.

“We are getting students back to college.”

Mr Harris said that while guidelines will mean some learning will be blended, on-site learning will be available to all college students.

“At a very minimum on-site learning will include laboratory teaching and learning, classroom-based learning, tutorials, workshops, smaller lectures, research, return to work spaces and access to libraries,” he added.

“Non-education facilities such as sports, bars, canteens, clubs and societies will also operate in line with prevailing public health advice.”

He said that teaching in lecture halls will depend on class size and other factors, adding there will be moderation in class numbers.

He also said that the vaccine programme is doing the “heavy lifting” in how Ireland reopens society.

Rapid testing

A pilot scheme of rapid Covid-19 antigen testing is taking place across a number of colleges.

The scheme is assessing how large-scale testing can help the return of student to on-campus learning.

Mr Harris said he has written to the expert advisory group on rapid testing asking for assistance in the rollout of antigen testing, if the scheme is more widely developed.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway Walsh claimed that a number of landlords are exploiting a loophole in legislation brought in to limit upfront deposits for accommodation.

The Mayo TD said that some landlords are demanding students pay “large sums of money” up front in a bid to get ahead of the legislation coming into force.

Under new regulations, renters and students will be required to pay a deposit that amounts to no more than two months’ rent.

While the legislation was enacted in recent weeks, Ms Walsh said it does not apply to tenancy agreements for the next month.

Mr Harris said the legislation came into effect on July 16th.

“I would be very concerned if that was the case as the law of the land is clear now,” he added.

“I would take a very grim view of anybody not rigidly applying the letter and spirit of the legislation.”

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