Simon Harris confirms universities will reopen on campus from September as "essential service"
The state announced €105 million in funding for the reopening of the sector.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has confirmed that third-level universities will be permitted to reopen on campus from September.
The government announced that it will be putting €105 million in state funds towards the reopening of the sector, with a further €21 million for additional student supports.
Harris said on Wednesday that the package will include financial support for further and higher education to return on-site safely and "in-line with public health advice".
He added that the funding will go towards "Covid-19 supports for the sector" as well as supports for students who will "return to a new world in September".
"Today, the government confirmed third-level education is an essential service and will return safely on-site in September," Harris said.
"Third-level education has been primarily online for almost a year and a half and this is not sustainable. The Plan for a Safe Return On-Site includes the return of lectures, with some modifications to overall numbers and specific mitigation measures.
"This will include additional mental health and other student supports.
“This past 18 months has been a really difficult time for students, particularly those vulnerable learners. Covid-19 has had an effect on many people’s mental health. We need to ensure our students are supported as they get back to campus.”
Harris added that a "contingency plan" will also be in place in the event of a significant spike in Covid-19 cases as case numbers throughout the country have continued to climb over the past number of weeks.
However, he said that universities will continue to have "significant on-site attendance", even in the event of a rise in cases, as government wants to avoid "an academic year like the last".
"Contingency plans are also being prepared in the event of a spike in Covid-cases, but these will continue to have significant on-site attendance.
"We know we had to do it and we know why, but we also know we cannot have an academic year like the last.
“We need to begin the next academic year on the right foot, get our learners and staff back on-site and start the work of preventing long-term effects of the pandemic for our youngest adults.
"I know this has been a tough year for students and staff but thankfully, a better year awaits you.”