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Ireland’s plan for the safe return to campus in the autumn

Earlier this month, the Irish Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, presented the Plan for a safe return for further and higher education and research in 2021/22. The government has committed to an increase in on-site activity for all students, learners, and staff. As the vaccination programme is rolling out successfully, it is expected that a full return to on-site activity is feasible. This will mean that larger lectures can happen within limits linked to reducing the size of large lecture halls and adjustments to the timetable to reduce the number of people on site. It will also retain some scope for online teaching, and ensure continuity for students and learners who cannot attend in person for health reasons.

In relation to international students and researchers, institutions will take specific actions to ensure that the arrival of international students and researchers for the next academic year will be managed in a safe manner. This protocol will include measures such as pre departure and post arrival training and symptoms checking or testing, measures to implement specific public health accommodation requirements, and the provision of medical care services for international students and researchers.

Universities are now developing their own detailed plans for a safe and comprehensive return to campus in the autumn in consultation with staff and students. During July and August institutions and providers will develop maximum attendance plans or move to contingency plans if necessary.

Similarly, ACA members participating in a Thematic Peer Group (TPG) monitoring the impact of Covid-19 on international higher education reported growing optimism for the opening of the academic year 2021/22 in close to ‘normal’ conditions, resuming face-to-face teaching activities and on campus presence. They also expect a growth in international student numbers in general, as well as in credit mobile students – both incoming and outgoing.