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Students should have rents refunded in event of second lockdown, says higher education minister

Simon Harris also defended the fact that college fees would remain the same, even as courses move online.

The University College Dublin campus.
The University College Dublin campus.
Image: Shutterstock/haireena

STUDENTS SHOULD BE refunded for accommodation if another Covid-19 lockdown forces the closure of colleges, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has said. 

In an interview with RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Claire Byrne, Harris said that “students were treated a bit shabbily” when colleges closed their doors at the start of the pandemic and many students were forced to leave accommodation to go home. 

“If ever, God forbid ever again, there were further restrictions and colleges had to close, we need to make sure that all the students get refunded. I don’t want any messing around in that regard.”

As the pandemic escalated and many colleges shifted rapidly online, many students were forced to leave on-campus accommodation. High-profile politicians, including Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin, campaigned for students to receive refunds on their rent. 

And while some colleges did provide refunds, many students reported being worried and stressed by the situation. 

Harris also repeated his hope that the student contribution fee might be reduced, but defended the fact that fees would remain the same this year, even as colleges opt for a largely online learning experience. 

“The cost of education has actually risen, so can you can imagine it’s costing more to provide college education in a Covid environment. Smaller classes, longer opening hours, use of technology,” he said.

He also said that a third of people going to college will be covered by the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant and won’t have to pay fees. 

“I do think the registration fee in Ireland is too high,” he said. “I’m committed to working on it.”

Outbreaks

The return of colleges will see the experience look radically different. Harris said that there will be strict rules for students – not just when it comes to class, but also regarding socialising. 

The new system will also see thousands of students learn primarily online, with much less time spent on campus. 

Harris said that the country should expect to see Covid-19 cases in colleges and third-level institutions, but that it shouldn’t be a source of panic. 

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“There will be a positive case. There’s no point in beating around the bush here it’s not possible to create a risk-free environment and we shouldn’t panic if there’s a positive case,” he said. 

“If there is a positive case that will be reported to the public health authorities who will be able to step in and carry out a risk assessment.”  

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