Coronavirus: Austria, Denmark and Ireland shut universities

Pressure mounting on big European sectors to suspend face-to-face teaching in response to coronavirus

March 12, 2020
Trinity College Dublin
Source: iStock

The Republic of Ireland is among the latest countries to announce the closure of their university systems as pressure mounts on big European sectors to follow suit in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said higher education institutions would be shut from 6pm on 12 March until 29 March, alongside schools and childcare facilities.

“Where possible, teaching will be done online or remotely,” Mr Varadkar said.

Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s most prestigious university, had already cancelled all in-person lectures for the remainder of the semester, delivering these online instead, while continuing with tutorials, seminars and laboratory practicals.

Ireland has so far reported 43 cases of Covid-19, one of them fatal.

Earlier, Denmark’s prime minister said that all students at schools and universities would be sent home from 13 March, Reuters reported. Mette Frederiksen announced the move after Denmark reported 514 cases of the new coronavirus, a 10-fold increase since the start of the week.

Austria announced that universities would need to switch from on-campus to online teaching by 16 March at the latest, with the restrictions in force until at least 3 April.

Several Austrian universities had already halted in-person teaching, according to local media.

Other countries taking the similar steps included the Czech Republic, Norway and Lithuania.

The moves raise the question of whether Europe’s big university systems, including the UK’s, will be told to take similar action.

While some staff and students have raised concerns about the risk of transmitting the virus if teaching continues, others have highlighted that some international students and learners from vulnerable backgrounds may have nowhere else to go.

Some universities are also at the forefront of the research effort to find treatments and potential vaccines for Covid-19.

European sectors that have already announced temporary closures this week because of coronavirus include Poland, Hungary and Ukraine, as well as Greece.

Italy, the European country worst hit by the virus, announced a 10-day closure at the start of the month, which was due to last until 15 March at the earliest.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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