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Letter to Minister Simon Harris on the Reopening of Campus

Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Dear Minister Harris,

We are contacting you today in relation to the detailed guidelines for the reopening of third level institutions published by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science yesterday evening. Upon reading the document, we wholly welcome the proposal of a 2-metre physical distancing rule as the default where possible. From this guidance we were hoping that UCD would revise their previously published plans which all centre around a 1 metre distance to see where they could realistically expand to 2 metre distancing. However, the President of University College Dublin, Prof. Andrew Deeks, issued a statement yesterday evening saying that the clarified guidelines are “in line with (UCDs) expectations and planning”.

We met with the University Registrar, Prof. Mark Rogers, earlier this morning to discuss how these additional guidelines will impact the reopening of campus. Prof. Rogers highlighted that some revisions to plans will be made to accommodate the limit of 50 people per lecture theatre, but overall the University intends to pursue physical distancing of 1 metre between students in lectures and 2 metres at all times between staff and students. The Registrar has assured us that this is in line with the sectoral public health guidelines and it is considered that in order for campus to functionally reopen it is necessary for 1 metre to be the default distancing in all cases.

It is our understanding from our engagement with members of the UCD University Management Team that your Department has communicated to the HEI’s that their interpretation of the guidelines, and permissible circumstances for 1 metre social distancing across the entire university, is correct. Can you please clarify if it is the case that 1 metre physical distancing between students across the board is what the Department has envisaged when publishing their detailed plans or should universities be making an effort to have 2 metres distance?

Students across Ireland have been working hard alongside all members of society to suppress the spread of COVID-19. We are worried that the Higher Education sector would be doing an injustice to all of this hard work if we do not follow the Government guidance of being 2 metres apart where possible. Students in Higher Education are from every corner of the country and if there was an outbreak in a University the size of UCD, there is the potential for serious ramifications for public health. Students understand that they must take all the appropriate precautions, follow public health advice and play their part in suppressing this virus. We are asking that HEI’s give us a chance by seeking to ensure that the majority of classes take place with 2 metres distance between students. We would really like to work with you and other HEI's to achieve this across the board.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Le gach dea-ghuí,

UCD Students’ Union