Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

10.54 11 Apr 2021


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The Government is set to pilot rapid COVID-19 testing in third level institutions before the summer.

The Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, is planning to bring a memo to Cabinet this week on the establishment of the pilot programme.

The Government is seeking to investigate how rapid antigen testing might be used to allow the further reopening of colleges and universities in September, the Business Post reports.

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It comes as the Department of Education is also preparing rapid test pilots in schools.

The HSE’s Dr Colm Henry said last month have been "remarkably low" COVID-19 positivity rates in schools where mass testing has been carried out.

He added that there is "no evidence" that schools are major incubators of the virus.

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh today, Clare Austick, Incoming President of the Union of Students in Ireland, said third level students need to get back on campus but it has to be done safely.

"Getting students on campuses is definitely so, so important but it has to be safe to do so under the public health guidelines

"Getting students on campus I really to ensure they have that sense of belonging to their campus and can engage with other students and have that holistic college experience."

covid-19 File photo. Credit: Martin Schutt/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa

Ms Austick added that other priorities will be to ensure that young people can engage meaningfully with their education while transitioning from online to in-person learning, as well as maintaining their health and wellbeing.

"We've seen massively how students' mental health has been affected so we need to ensure they gave the supports in place to make sure their wellbeing is taken care of," she said.

Conversations need to be had as soon as possible so these measures can be in place, she added.

"It's going to be huge, the whole transition period going from online blended learning to on-campus engagement, those who might be living away from home for the first time, for those is a lecture theatre with 400 people for the first time, it's going to be very important they have those supports in place," Ms Austick said.

Challenges

Speaking on the same programme, Trinity College Dublin's recently-elected first female Provost said that the past year has been really tough on students.

Professor Linda Boyle explained that the big challenge in the coming academic year will be getting them back in lecture halls, prioritising their mental health and wellbeing, and getting them used to college life again.

"I think higher education is such an asset to the country and as we sit here in the middle of COVID, you see how higher education has contributed so much to the COVID situation at the moment," she added.

"And you look to the future and how an important asset it is to have universities and higher education institutions thrive, it's our way through the tough future that I think we're all facing in the country."

Main image: Students wearing face masks sit in a classroom at the Tambov state university in Russia. Photo by Lev Vlasov / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

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