The Department of Education published the ‘Practical Guidance for Further and Higher Education for Returning to On-Site Education in 2020’ on July 22nd, providing third-level institutions with protocols to follow regarding a 2-metre physical-distancing boundary to be maintained, recommendations of face coverings on campus and shorter lecture and class lengths.
This is an adaptation of the protocol released on May 9th depicting how workplaces should be reformed post-lockdown. The additional guidance requested by third-level institutions explains how the principles set out in the original protocol should be applied to deal with the specific challenges that will arise on campuses nationwide this Autumn.
The protocol states that the 2-metre ‘Physical Distancing’ boundary should be maintained on campus. It is suggested that opening hours should be widened and that classes should be staggered to achieve this. It is also said that “any non-essential or unnecessary traffic onto higher education or further education and training campus should be avoided”, therefore graduation ceremonies should be postponed or held virtually, however, institutions also have the option of hosting smaller, more brief ceremonies over reading weeks or in “separate areas inaccessible to regular campus”. Educational trips and fieldwork without overnight accommodation and where physical distancing can be maintained will be allowed but will require a record of attendance for contact-tracing. There is potential for flexibility surrounding physical distancing as the stages progress but depending on the level of transmission recorded in the institution, the relaxations may be reversed.
UCD plans to minimise physical mixing between students by placing students into “pods” with those that share “significant portions of the [same] timetable”.
‘Face Coverings’ are recommended in specific instances where close proximity to other people cannot be avoided, for example in small laboratory groups. Where the proximity of less than 1 metre is envisaged, a face mask and a face shield are recommended. Face shields may also be considered instead of face coverings for lecturers, particularly if there are concerns around voice projection. The protocol repetitively states that face coverings are an additional measure, not a substitute, to other public health guidelines such as hand washing, respiratory etiquette and physical distancing. UCD has now stated that face coverings are mandatory on campus.
‘International Students’ should be treated in the same way as any individual travelling to Ireland and no exemptions can be considered. As a result, guidelines from the Department of Health should be followed which advises a 14 day period of self-isolation upon arrival into Ireland and a requirement to complete a COVID-19 Passenger Locator Form. Universities with halls of residence may be able to facilitate this self-isolation period for international students and visitors, however, it is up to the individual institution to decide as to whether this is feasible or not.
The risk of virus transmission is particularly high where there are a high density and close proximity of people. In that context, student accommodation presents a potential risk. Due to the diversity of accommodation, case-by-case risk assessments will be required. There are deliberations of housing students from the same study programmes together in an attempt to create social bubbles.” Students living in an apartment are to be treated as a household and should one student contact the virus, then all residents of that apartment must isolate.
Hand Hygiene Stations and Temperature Checks
Institutions should introduce hand sanitiser stations at the campus building entry and exit points, and high footfall areas. Where bottlenecks are likely, institutions could consider multiple stations within a building. Temperature checks will not be implemented on campus for fear that it will challenge pedestrian traffic flow. To maintain healthy traffic flow on campus, the department recommends staggering lecture times so not all classes start and finish at the same time, having clearly marked entrances and exits and maintaining a one-way system where feasible.
Lecture and Class Length
The need for face-to-face meetings for staff and students should be minimised. Classes of less than 2 hours in duration and with appropriate physical distancing are recommended. However, classes exceeding 2 hours may be permitted if institutions have appropriate safeguards in place.
The College Tribune previously reported, “to reduce numbers physically present on campus at any time, lectures will be pre-recorded or streamed live on Brightspace, timetables may be revised to schedule hours outside of 9am-6pm, and Saturday classes may be introduced.”
Emma Hanrahan – Reporter