All of the State’s third-level institutions will be placed at Level 3 of the Covid-19 alert framework from midnight tonight.
Announcing the decision on Friday afternoon Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said all universities and Institutes of Technology will be placed in a restricted scenario for up to three weeks.
While colleges will remain open, all lectures and most tutorials are expected to migrate online and students will be encouraged to remain at home rather than travel to their campus.
Libraries and laboratories in colleges are expected to remain open. All social activities on campus have been suspended.
Mr Harris said the decision was grounded on the experience in other jurisdictions where there were significant increases in coronavirus cases after third-level colleges reopened.
He also said it was a response to the current situation in Ireland, where the country faced a “critical two weeks” in its efforts to curb the disease.
Speaking at Government buildings, Mr Harris said the decision was made to protect Ireland’s students and their communities and followed a conversation with the Taoiseach Micheál Martin and acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn.
“Notwithstanding all the protective measures that have been put in place by our higher level institutions, you will appreciate there is now a growing concern about the impact the recommencement on campus of (student) activity will have on the very fragile epidemiological situation that pertains at present.”
He indicated that emerging international evidence had shown that when colleges reopened it there was a spike ion Covid-19 cases.
“You do not have to look too far from these shores to the UK in this regard, and also to the US and other European countries,” Mr Harris said.
He said the Level 3 status meant that for the next few weeks, higher level colleges would provide their education largely online, although there would be scope for libraries and laboratories to remain open.
“We are asking people to show common sense. If you don’t have to trek across the country to attend a lecture, you should not have to,” he said.
In a statement detailing the new measures the Irish Universities Association said for the next few weeks the restrictions that apply to third level institutions in Dublin would apply to all colleges.
Among the measures are:
- Universities will use discretion when deciding between onsite and remote for the scheduling of activities and will favour remote delivery where possible
- On-campus teaching will be minimised with priority given to teaching and learning that can only take place on-site
- It will also include limited planned on-site attendance for other priority student cohorts. This may include small tutorials and elements of first-year orientation/induction which cannot be undertaken on line, so long as these are conducted on a staggered basis to avoid congregation or large on-site attendances
- University libraries will remain open with strict social distancing protocols and entry registration. All research activities will continue as normal
- Social/club activities on-campus will be suspended until further notice. Universities will also enhance any protection measures such as more extensive wearing of face masks in certain settings.