Higher Education: Teachers, researchers and non-teaching staff should be given priority in vaccination, union calls for coronavirus

The “Dropper” deflation plan announced by António Costa on Thursday provides for the gradual reopening (and after graduation) of schools and higher education institutions. This return will be accompanied by a “mass test” which will begin next Tuesday, March 16, in kindergartens, preschools and schools of the 1st cycle. In addition, teachers, school staff and social aid professionals became part of the first and second phases of the vaccination campaign.

The reopening of universities and technical colleges planned for April 19 is “good news”, says Mariana Gaio Alves, President of the National Union for Higher Education (Snesup). Secondary school students also return to the classroom on the same day. The President of Snesup notes, however, that there is an “omission” regarding the “vaccination of teachers, researchers and support staff at universities and colleges”. This “should be foreseen” as “these professionals will develop their activities personally” as soon as higher education institutions open doors, he points out.

A statement by Snesup, to which P3 had access, also mentions that the guidelines for testing at universities and colleges are “vague”. According to a statement by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education (MCTES) released this Thursday, “the scientific and higher education institutions” should “plan a gradual reactivation of academic and non-academic activities in the presence of students”. This includes “providing test conditions for SARS-CoV-2 for teachers, researchers, non-teachers and students,” the document says.

On this topic, Mariana Gaio Alves hopes that this will be “realized” and that “several universities and technical colleges can do this [a testagem]”. “This is already happening in some institutions,” he adds, referring to the example of the University of Lisbon. Even so, the union’s president accuses the guardianship of “being absent on these issues”. Snesup has already contacted the General Directorate of Health, the Coordinating Council of Higher Polytechnic Institutes and the Council of Rectors of Portuguese Universities [CRUP]In this area the waiting for an answer continues.

The same communiqué from Snesup calls for “that both teachers and researchers and non-teaching staff are included in the priority vaccination group and that a national and uniform massive test plan be drawn up”. “This is the only way to stop possible outbreaks in higher education institutions,” it says.

A source from CRUP told the PUBLIC that the president of that body would not make any statements “waiting for clues” from the manual. In turn, until the end of this issue, MCTES did not respond to the questions the PUBLIC had asked on the subject.

The return to college classes is also rated as “positive” by representatives of students from the Universities of Porto, Coimbra and Lisbon. However, Ana Gabriela Cabilhas, President of the Academic Federation of Porto (FAP) believes that the reopening requires guarantees of “maximum security”. “Higher education has this context and characteristics that need to be taken into account: Many students are displaced and return to the cities where they study and share a home,” he recalls. The President of FAP argues that tests “should be massaged” and should involve higher education professionals, not least because “few institutions” [da Universidade do Porto]”Do this.

This problem “does not occur at the University of Coimbra,” says João Assunção, President of the Academic Association of Coimbra. The academy developed a screening program for Covid-19 that took around 100 samples a day. “But other higher education institutions may not have this capacity,” he notes, adding that the department needs to consider “the true capacity” of each university or college. The President of the Academic Federation of Lisbon, Francisco Maria Pereira, is of the same opinion: In contrast to the University of Lisbon, which invested “at least 200,000 euros” to test covid-19 for the entire community, there may be other institutions who do “are unable to control the situation very well”.

In addition, the academic director says that the “educational impact of the closure” of these educational institutions is “very large”. First, because “some courses lose their relevance and end up being less stimulating,” which adds to the loss of interest among university students. Because of the economic context, “some students may not be able to return to their personal regime” who have no way of returning to the cities where they were accommodated on the academic adventure. And he emphasizes, “many have studied abroad, but have not stopped taking courses with the room or with the residence”. The “fight against early school leavers” is also included in the list of recommendations and measures to be adopted by MCTES institutions.

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