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UCU tells universities to “scrap plans” to open campuses

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The University and College Union that represents over 120,000 academics has told universities to pause plans to reopen campuses next month to prevent a “major public health crisis”.

The Union’s leader Jo Grady said that universities were not prepared to deal with the crisis, and could become the “care homes of the second wave” come the autumn.

But universities, including Loughborough, have said that they have worked “in a carefully managed way to put in place a range of measures and procedures to minimise the risk” to students and the community.

The statement comes just weeks before over a million students start to move across the country to campuses, including almost 20,000 to Loughborough – some of which may bring the virus with them.

The UCU are predominantly concerned with the lack of a “functioning track and trace system” or any national plan to “regularly test students or staff” on campus, and a drive from government and universities to get back to business “before it was safe to do so”.

However, universities rely heavily on income from accommodation and facility fees, and without students returning to campus many could be left with a large financial deficit in the coming years.

However, Universities UK, which represents Vice Chancellors, say that many staff do want to return to physical teaching and research where it is “safe and appropriate to do so”, outlining the benefits to students’ wellbeing and education when teaching is in-person.

The Government has also responded, saying that they are “confident that universities are well prepared for the return of students by taking measures such as introducing social distancing on campus, limiting travel requirement for classes and staggering teaching across extended days to reduce numbers on site”.

Loughborough University have imposed their own ‘Back to Campus’ measures to be enforced from September 7th, which includes one-way systems in buildings, limits on the numbers of people in any one area, Perspex screens at receptions, increased sanitation and cleaning, as well as mandatory face coverings in communal indoor areas, lecture theatres, and thoroughfares.

They will also only be delivering teaching in person when it is safe to do so, with “most large lectures and some larger classes” being delivered online to ensure compliance with Government social distancing requirements.

However, the UCU have issued advice which goes further. The Union has said that if students have to attend campus, the university should be secured with:

  • Testing on or before arrival on campus followed up by further regular testing of students and staff
  • An online welcome week and teaching in the first two weeks of term along with restrictions of social activities among students where feasible
  • Mitigations in classrooms including masks, social distancing of two meters as the norm and regular cleaning
  • Residential bubbles
  • A social agreement of Covid-safe behaviours on campus. This should cover students, teachers and all university support staff
  • Full consultation with University staff, rigorous health and safety procedures and attention to equality and diversity issues

 

From UCU Document: Reopening of university campuses – guidance for HE branches

The Union argues that “Refusing to act now will only store up problems further down the line as courses are forced to move online and students forced into lockdown.

“It is no good blaming students later on for a problem that could have been avoided by government action. We need to move all teaching online for the first term of the new academic year, as recommended by Independent Sage, and the government needs to underwrite any lost funding for the sector.”

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