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Northern Ireland’s further and higher education institutions are making an invaluable contribution to the fight against COVID-19.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds and Health Minister Robin Swann have praised our colleges and universities for their significant contribution including providing and creating personal protective equipment (PPE), joining the research for a vaccine and students volunteering and joining the health service workforce.

Minister Dodds said: “Our colleges and universities are packed full of skills, knowledge and talent. The staff and students have shown no hesitation in applying those attributes to the current crisis and doing what they can to make a real difference.

“I am impressed and humbled at the projects they are bringing through, the innovation being shown and the speed at which they have sprung into action.”

Highlighting the work being done by the further education sector, the Minister continued: “We are seeing Southern Regional College, North West College and South West College working together to manufacture facial visors for health service staff using 3D printing and laser cutting.

“Belfast Met is also using this technology to make personal protective equipment (PPE), while South Eastern Regional College has made reusable face masks that they are donating to care homes. In parallel, colleges are gathering the PPE that they have on campus and donating it to their local health trusts.

“Other steps include donating alcohol from chemical supplies so it can be used for the manufacture of hand sanitiser, and staff and students volunteering their time to help the response against the virus.”

Minister Swann also welcomed and praised the contribution of medical and nursing students from our universities: “Around 500 final year medicine and nursing students at Queen’s University have agreed to join the front line and support the NHS directly. Final year adult and mental health student nurses at Ulster University have also entered the healthcare workforce as part of emergency plans to assist with the COVID-19 response. That they are foregoing the final months of their studies so that they can apply their abilities directly to the care of patients is truly remarkable.

“And a team of researchers at Queen’s has been awarded a grant of almost £300,000 by the UK Government to contribute to the research effort to create a vaccine for COVID-19.”

Minister Dodds added: “Meanwhile, Ulster University has made rooms available on its Magee campus for use by NHS workers who are unable to go home between shifts. Researchers from UU are carrying out important studies into the public health implications of COVID-19, including the mental health and social impacts of the virus.

“Both institutions are also applying their engineering capability to use laser cutting and 3D printing technologies to design and produce PPE for both clinical and community use.”

The Minister concluded: “This is just a flavour of the contribution being made by the local further and higher education sectors. I applaud the staff and students in our colleges and universities for stepping up and turning their focus towards the response to the virus. Their actions will make a tangible difference.”