The Union of Students in Ireland welcomes the plan published today, which aims to re-open campuses and have most third-level activity back on site from the start of the new academic year.

Along with getting students back into lectures and classrooms, that the plan also allows for the reopening of libraries, cafes, canteens and bars, as well as the restarting of club, society and sporting activity is particularly welcome.

USI President, Lorna Fitzpatrick said: “Students have told us they have been feeling very isolated and struggling with the lack of social interaction. They are extremely keen to get back on campus as soon as possible but know it must be in a safe manner. They want to get back into classes, but they also want to have an holistic college experience and so the plan for an almost full re-opening, with public health safety measures, was very important to us. We have been working with students, Students’ Unions, Government, institutions and others to give that as much chance as possible of happening. We are glad to have been involved in preparing this plan – which has been approved by public health leaders – as it aims to do just that.”

USI also says it is vital that higher education institutions work with students and student representatives locally to develop and communicate their plans for how the strategy will be rolled out in their college and that these measures are properly funded and resourced.

Lorna said: “It’s extremely important that funding is made available to support this return, particularly for student wellbeing and engagement. While the publication of this document was required, a lot of how it is implemented will be done and communication at local level, and so it is vital that student representatives are involved in this aspect and that colleges are in continuous communication with students and student representatives, so everyone knows what is happening in their institution.”

While welcoming the return to campus for most students, USI also says we must not lose sight of what has worked well this year when planning to support vulnerable students in the autumn and into the future.

Lorna said: “As outlined in this plan, there also must be provisions made for vulnerable students who may still have health concerns in the autumn. We are also very supportive of aspects of blended learning – such as recorded lectures – being retained into the future for those who need them, such as students with disabilities and those with caring responsibilities.

“And while we are as glad as anyone to see the optimism in this document, we have seen in the past 15 months how quickly things can change and will be seeking details of what will happen if the public health situation does not go as planned for and expected. Ensuring that young people and students are vaccinated will be an important part of ensuring this plan can go ahead.”