August 18, 2020

HECA Advice to College Members and their Academic Communities in relation to re-commencement of Studies in Academic Year 2020 - 2021

    1. Background

    The Higher Education Colleges Association (HECA), which was established in 1991 serves as a representative voice for thirteen established and state accredited privately funded Colleges of higher education, advocating on behalf of and supporting its members in achieving their strategic goals.

    HECA actively facilitates a community of practitioners committed to best practice and the promotion of excellence and quality assured higher education amongst its members. Colleges, which are members of HECA are located across Ireland. All HECA members have Quality Assurance and Enhancement processes agreed with Quality & Qualifications Ireland (QQI) and offer QQI validated programmes across a very diverse range of disciplines, between levels 6 and 9 on the National Framework of Qualifications. The student body within the HECA network of Colleges is over 27,000 and represents approximately 12% of the total national population of third level students.

    Over the course of the last three decades, HECA is very proud of its collective 

    • Commitment to excellence in Higher Education in Ireland
    • Consistent contribution to shaping national policy development within Irish higher education through Collegial engagement with multiple stakeholders
    • Innovative ethos in terms of pedagogical practice and evidence informed education.
    • Active promotion of student engagement through pioneering work on student-centred flexible and accessible teaching and learning strategies in Higher Education
    • Embrace of collaborative principles and collegiality with other HE stakeholders.

    2. Current Context

    The current context of COVID-19 and its impact on life in Ireland and internationally has been well documented. In terms of Higher Education, HECA has worked assiduously and collaboratively with all Higher Education stakeholders over the past number of months to manage the educational experience of its students, faculty and staff and will continue to do so over the Summer and into the coming Semester. In that regard, it is actively represented on and contributing to the Department of Education and Skills National COVID-19 Tertiary Education Sector Working Groups 

    Our primary concern is the health and wellbeing of our learning and academic communities including learners, lecturers and staff. In that context, the actions of HECA Colleges since last Spring have been guided by Public Health advice and will continue to be so, with particular attention being paid to requirements for physical distancing, use of face coverings, and hygiene measures. The successful actions taken to date have included greater reliance on the use of technology to facilitate both ongoing learning and assessment and have been successful in no small measure because of the engagement of students, staff, lecturers and QQI in the process and the monitoring of effectiveness of novel approaches.

    3. Arrangements for Semester 1 of the 2020 – 2021 Academic Year

    Most HE Institutions and all HECA Colleges have been actively preparing and/or modifying arrangements (contingency plans) for the academic year 2020/2021. This guidance document has been developed by HECA to support its College members and their students and staff for the 2020/21 academic year. 

    In that regard, it seems safe to assume that Public Health advice and standards will continue to require vigilance, physical distancing and ongoing adherence to hygiene standards as set by Public Health services in the next academic year.

    We all have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the learning environment as far as is practicable and all HECA colleges are committed to that principle. As an overarching commitment, HECA Colleges will comply with all Public Health advice in relation to Covid-19 as well as the Guidance for Further and Higher Education for returning to on-site activity in 2020: Roadmap and COVID-19 Adaptation Framework and the Implementation Guidelines for Public Health Measures in Higher Education Institutions This advice and therefore the HECA Guidelines are subject to change as the situation evolves.

    4. Academic Excellence and HECA Colleges

    HECA reiterates the commitment of its members to ensuring and assuring Academic Excellence in the quality of programmes offered.

    It is important to confirm that all Contingency arrangements actioned by HECA Colleges in the Spring Semester of Academic Year 2019/2020 were subject to the approval and monitoring policies and procedures linked with the Academic governance structures of each College. It is equally important to highlight that any further contingencies or alterations to accommodate educational continuity in the coming Semester of Academic Year 2020/2021 will also be subject to such Quality Assurance & Enhancement processes. These arrangements will continue to be monitored by QQI and relevant professional accreditation bodies, where relevant, in addition to the Academic Governance Bodies of each College.

    In terms of processes for ensuring and supporting academic teaching and assessment excellence in Higher Education, HECA is particularly proud of  the work of the HECA Academic Quality Enhancement Forum (HAQEF) which is a standing Sub Committee that promotes quality and standards within communities of academic learning and practice within the Private Higher Education Sector. It works collaboratively to share exemplars of best practice and actively works with the National Forum on Teaching and Learning to enhance teaching excellence and academic teaching and assessment standards within the Sector. 

    This collaborative approach will continue to guide academic excellence and quality across member Colleges.

    Likewise, all member Colleges will continue with their monitoring and reporting processes to QQI, and relevant professional accreditation bodies, where applicable, in relation to Quality and Standards on an annual and cyclical basis.

    5. Access to Educational Resources including the Re-opening of Physical Buildings 

    HECA colleges are committed to ensuring the greatest possible access to student services, library resources, classrooms and other resources as soon as allowed and within any physical distancing constraints identified by Public Health advice. 

    HECA member Colleges commit to keeping their academic communities updated and informed on Service Access through their Websites and/or Virtual Learning Environments. 

    Students should check with their Programme Directors/Coordinators, Academic Administration Departments or the Websites of Member Colleges regarding Induction Processes; Commencement Dates and Times; Class Schedules and any contingency arrangements for particular modules, e.g. arrangements for physical co-presenting and/or the  use of online resources. 

    6. Technologically Facilitated Learning 

    HECA Colleges are renowned for, and distinguished by, their commitment to educational innovation and flexibility. Blended and online delivery modes are a central means of ensuring flexible and student centred access to quality assured higher education. This means of teaching and learning has been used widely in the sector and in particular for Part time/Evening studies. Covid-19 also required that full access to all Higher Education physical facilities was prohibited in early 2020 and the utilisation of Blended and On-line technologies was extended to Full time Students. 

    Because of their shared experience and expertise in the use of Blended learning Technologies, HECA Colleges were rapidly able to put in place contingency plans to optimise Blended Learning technologies and ensure educational continuity and quality assured Assessment in the Spring Semester of 2019. A review of those actions indicates that the ability of the Private Colleges to adapt, be flexible and continue to ensure Quality experiences was confirmed by the experience of learners and faculty. 

    While it is expected that all College buildings will re-open at the commencement of the Autumn semester in September 2020, the configuration of learning through the use of full classroom based participation and/or combinations of Technologically facilitated learning may vary depending on circumstances and Public Health advice. Therefore, it is advisable to check directly with Programme Directors/Coordinators, Academic Administration Departments or the Websites of Member Colleges regarding any modules or elements of Modules or programmes which will use Technologically Facilitated Learning and the extent to which technologically facilitated learning will be utilised in the coming Semester.

    7. Physical Distancing and Face Coverings

    While the advice in relation to physical distancing is evolving and subject to change, based on current advice, it is likely that there will be greater use of educational technology to ensure compliance with reduced levels of public congregation and the use of face coverings. All members of the academic communities of HECA member Colleges will be expected to comply with any Public Health advice and the Practical Guidance for Further and Higher Education for Returning to On-site Activity in 2020 and Implementation Guidelines for Public Health Measures in Higher Education Institutions guidelines. All Colleges commit to ensuring appropriate measures to support appropriate co-presencing in the physical environments of Colleges, including the use of face coverings if and where indicated.

    Appendix 1

    CCT College
    DBS-Dublin Business School
    Dorset College
    Griffith College
    Galway Business School
    Hibernia College
    ICHAS - Irish College of Humanities & Applied Sciences
    NCI - National College of Ireland
    OTC - Open Training College
    Setanta College
    SMSI - St Nicholas Montessori Society Ireland
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