Since March 2020, all higher education institutions within the HECA membership have prioritised the health and safety of students and staff whilst continuing the delivery of high-quality teaching, learning and assessment. From the outset of public health restrictions, HECA have strongly committed to active participation and collaboration across the national higher education sector, with the DES (Department of Education and Skills), later the newly formed DFHERIS (Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science) and the national TES (Tertiary Education Sector) COVID-19 Working Groups to ensure the continuity of quality educational provision consistent with public health advice. HECA welcomes Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, acknowledgement and tribute to the staff and students in higher education institutions who have managed to maintain this high standard since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On December 1st, we returned to Level 3, and a planned easing of restrictions. HECA member institutions are communicating their plans for the next semester and we especially welcome the Minister’s objective that as restrictions ease, there should be a greater opportunity to safely increase on-campus experiences, face-to-face delivery, small group learning and student structured activities. While at Level 5, there was recognition that some vulnerable learners require additional support, the new guidelines also support first year students having more on campus activity and other priority groups including those ‘who do not have suitable facilities or the right environment to access learning remotely, vulnerable or marginalised students and learners, and those studying in disciplines that are dependent on in-person small group learning and discussion’. However, the return of large class face to face learning is not envisaged for the remainder of the academic year.
The Minister’s confidence in the sector is demonstrated by enabling institutions to locally determine the safe continuity of provision. Our members are diligent in their ambitions to support students and are encouraged that the current public health guidelines will pave the way for some certainty for students and staff in the plans remainder of the academic year.
To see the government statement, click here