Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Questions (591)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

591. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he will address a matter raised in correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6920/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I am conscious that students will wish for clarity as soon as possible in regard to the format of the 2021-2022 academic year. However given the evolving public health situation it is not possible at this time to provide any concrete information on what the new academic year may look like. I would encourage students to engage with their higher education institution regarding their plans for the 2021 academic year in advance of booking student accommodation.

The Higher Education Authority which acts as the National Agency for the Erasmus+ Higher Education programme, is optimistic that Erasmus study abroad opportunities will continue to be maintained for third-level students in the 2021-2022 academic year. Students and staff will have the opportunity to undertake a physical mobility to their chosen destination should the circumstances surrounding international travel and the Covid-19 pandemic permit this. Students can also undertake a blended mobility approach, combining a period of physical mobility with a period of virtual learning. If international travel is not possible, students can do a virtual mobility for the entire duration of their Erasmus experience.

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Ireland is a matter for the HSE and the Department of Health, and therefore I cannot speculate as to when the vaccine will be available for any particular group of people. The majority of students fall into the 14th vaccination allocation group “Aged 18-54 years who did not have access to the vaccine in prior phases” and as the national vaccination programme ramps up more information will become available as to when this group can expect to be vaccinated.

Whether there is a change to the start date of the 2021 academic year will be dependent on the arrangements for the Leaving Certificate class of 2021. On February 5th Minister Foley announced a new phase of planning for the State Examinations which will include both the provision of Leaving Certificate examinations and exploring a corresponding non-examination process. Bilateral discussion to ensure a pathway for progression for 2021 Leaving Certificate students have begun, and information on these arrangements and any consequent change to the academic calendar in third level institutions will be communicated as soon as possible.