Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

18.07 9 Jun 2021


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"Many, many students" will be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the new college year starts, the Higher Education Minister has said.

Simon Harris has pledged that students will be returning to campuses in September and October - as the days of "college being by Zoom" can't continue.

A full plan on the return to campuses is expected to go before Cabinet next week.

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Minister Harris told The Hard Shoulder that "at a minimum" the likes of in-person workshops and tutorials will resume from September, alongside the reopening of libraries.

'Many, many students' will be vaccinated before new college year starts - Harris

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He suggested larger lectures "are going to be trickier", but said he's hopeful progress will be made.

He said: “We’re learning the lessons of reopening in broader society - colleges are campuses are like villages or small towns, and we are applying those same rules.”

Minister Harris said most college and university staff will be fully vaccinated by the time the new academic year starts.

However, he said “many, many students” will also have been vaccinated.

He noted that people over 16 are classed as adults as part of the vaccination programme, and the vaccine programme is now open for everyone aged 40 and over.

The Government has previously said it's hoping to have the vast majority of adults vaccinated by July.

Antigen testing

One question around the reopening of colleges and universities is whether rapid antigen tests will be used to detect cases of COVID-19 among staff and students.

Minister Harris said four pilot schemes on campus antigen testing are now underway - in Trinity, UCD, Galway and Cork.

He said: “If there’s benefits in that and a need to roll it out more widely, we will do that.

"But the plan we have to get students back to college is not contingent on that."

Cabinet signed off on new protections for renters today, and Minister Harris said two of the measures will benefit students in particular.

He said: “The first measure - which will apply to all tenants, but will particularly benefit students - is they can no longer be asked to pay more than one month's rent and one month's deposit.

“I heard many stories… of a student, sometimes with the help of their student, having to fork out €2,500-€3,500 upfront… cover a number of months of rent. That won’t now be allowed.

“This legislation will also now make sure no student has to give any more than 28 days’ notice [for leaving accommodation]."

The minister said Government believes there's a "need to rebalance the scales more in favour of the renter” - as people with lower incomes finding it hard to find accommodation, especially when there are demands for a ‘lump sum’ to cover initial rent and a deposit.

He said: “There are many protections in place for landlords… and people will still have to pay a month’s deposit. But we do need to do something here to rebalance the scales in favour of the renter.”

Main image: File photo of Simon Harris (picture by: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie) / Trinity College in Dublin (picture by: Brian Lawless/PA Archive/PA Images)

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