The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has said it is vitally important that the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research Innovation and Science (DFHERIS) takes all necessary steps to ensure the safe re-opening of third level education at a time when the country is affected by the highest COVID-19 case numbers since the onset of the pandemic.
The steps taken must include central procurement of FFP2 face masks and antigen tests, to be made available on all third level campuses. While the €9m fund announced last month for the purchase of antigen tests for the sector is welcome, in the absence of central procurement, the availability of the tests will be severely delayed.
Room specific risk assessments, adequate ventilation, mask-wearing, the roll-out of CO2 monitors and all other mitigation measures must be continued and reinforced.
The TUI represents over 4,000 academic staff in Technological Universities and Institutes of Technology.
Speaking today, TUI President Martin Marjoram said:
“As we enter a new phase of dealing with COVID-19, the enormous efforts of TUI members and others across the sector to keep third level education operating during the pandemic must receive all possible support from DFHERIS. The Department must put in place the necessary funding and measures to protect workplaces and teaching spaces against the threat posed by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
High standard FFP2 face masks must be provided across all Institutes of Technology, Technological Universities and in St. Angela’s College, while the new and important role of antigen tests in identifying infection means that these too will have to be made available. A system of central procurement must be established as a matter of urgency so that Higher Education Institutes are not forced into unnecessary replication of work up and down the country while competing against each other for what may be scarce supply. The successful experience in the sector of central procurement of student laptops and facemasks must be repeated to ensure swift delivery.
In addition, all risk mitigation measures must be continued and indeed reinforced including mandatory mask-wearing (except in cases of medical exemption), room specific risk assessments and risk assessments of shared spaces such as corridors and canteens, identification and rectification of ventilation problems, and provision of CO2 monitors.
Changes to examination schedules, including any postponements of face-to-face examinations or transition to online examinations, must be the subject of necessary engagement with academic staff through their union representatives. The union is committed to protecting members and the system from the impact of unreasonable additional workload, while upholding the integrity of the assessment process is an imperative shared by all.
The scandalous failure to date to direct additional COVID-19-related funding to the recruitment of additional academic staff is likely to cause significant difficulties as a massively over-stretched system attempts to deal with the high numbers of absences arising from infection and close contact with the virus.”