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Occupancy limits and sanitation: Higher education announces plans for 'safe return' to campuses

Colleges will implement sanitation and ventilation measures, as well as occupancy limits in certain locations.

File photo of students in a lecture hall
File photo of students in a lecture hall
Image: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

THE HIGHER EDUCATION institutions represented by the Irish Universities Association (IUA), the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have announced their plans for a safe return to campuses this September with “maximum on-site presence”.

The three groups said the coordinated approach is “centred on the overwhelming desire of students to get back on campus” and “facilitated by the classification of higher education as an essential service and the fact that the vast majority of adults, including students, will have been vaccinated by September”.

Under the plans, higher education institutions (HEIs) will implement sanitation and ventilation measures, as well as occupancy limits in certain locations.

The joint approach from the HEIs builds on the Safe Return Plan published by Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science in June and outlines the range of mitigation measures that will be implemented across the sector to provide for a safe reopening, a statement noted.

As set out in the joint paper released today, several measures are being applied across the sector with each HEI adapting the measures to their local context and physical infrastructure.

These measures include the following:

  • Ensure that all campus operations are conducted in such a manner as to manage any risk to individual and public health through adherence to relevant regulations
  • Adhering to standard hygiene measures including hand hygiene and dispensers, sanitary and respiratory hygiene, and cleaning procedures
  • Requiring face masks in indoor on-site shared settings in accordance with prevailing public health regulations and guidance
  • Working to optimise ventilation systems to minimise risk of viral transmission, in line with local context and assessment
  • Ensuring that entry and egress to buildings and facilities will be carefully managed via contra flow and other measures
  • Managing lecture times flexibly where required to provide for controlled exit and entry to large lectures and to avoid congregation
  • Actively manage large lecture theatres in particular, either by applying percentage occupancy limits, setting a maximum class size, an upper limit on lecture length/period of continuous occupancy or otherwise, depending on local context and risk assessment
  • Adopt the separate protocol agreed by the HEIs for the arrival of international students to Ireland to ensure their safety and that of the communities in which they will live and study

Speaking about the plans, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, chair of the IUA and President of NUI Galway, said: “We are looking forward to welcoming our students back to our campuses.

“We are determined to put in place all the measures advised by public health to make the return to campus safe and sustainable for our students, our staff and for society. A key element of this determination is personal as well as institutional responsibility and we urge all our students to take up the offer of a vaccination in good time for September.”

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Órla Ryan

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