I appreciate that this is a time of considerable stress and concern for third level students and the challenging and stressful circumstances that students are facing are being taken into account by Higher Education institutions as they adapt and respond to the changing situation. This includes the consideration of issues around on-site access for practical work for students. The national co-ordination group for further and higher education is also meeting on a regular basis, and is closely monitoring the impact that Covid-19 is having on third level institutions and their students.
From the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, significant work has been undertaken by a stakeholder group chaired by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), and including the representative bodies of education providers and students to address issues relating to the maintenance of the quality and standards of:
- teaching and learning,
- assessment, and
This group has focused on the implementation of alternative arrangements and methods of delivery, where appropriate and necessary, to meet both these standards and, where applicable, the educational accreditation criteria established by Professional Recognition Bodies (PRBs).
The government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business and Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021, Plan for Living with COVID-19, combined with the HSA Return to Work Protocols and ongoing Public Health advice, provide the over-arching framework for all sectors of society for the operation of their facilities and premises in keeping with public health advice.
Specific to further and higher education, the government has also published “Guidance for Further and Higher Education for returning to on-site activity in 2020: Roadmap and COVID-19 Adaptation Framework for returning to on-site activity in autumn 2020” accompanied by “Implementation Guidelines for Public Health Measures in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)” and outbreaks protocols developed in collaboration with experts within the higher education sector and with the Department of Health. This suite of guidance provides robust advice to higher and further educational facilities on COVID-19 prevention measures, implementation of which will minimise the risk of infection for all students and staff. Further and Higher Education Institutes should adapt and customise these recommendations for their own particular settings, adhering at all times to the overarching Public Health principles on which the guidance is predicated.
As Higher Education Institutions are autonomous, and as such are academically independent and are entitled to regulate their own academic affairs and administrative processes, including in relation to access to laboratory facilities, and as there are a wide range of courses with practical laboratory elements, students are encouraged to approach their institutions directly if they have any queries in relation to the lab-based elements of their course.
However, my Department is continuing to work with all stakeholders to identify mitigating actions which can be implemented.