The University and College Union yesterday threatened industrial action to prevent what they call an “unsafe campus return” this academic year.
University lecturers have told the Government that they will not resume face-to-face teaching this academic year, and that any attempt by the government or vice-chancellors to reopen campuses in February will fail.
The Union has alarmingly threatened to ballot nationally for industrial action for the fourth time in three years, this time over any potential student return to campus this academic year.
In a statement, they said that they will ballot their members to strike against the resumption of in-person teaching, if any university attempts to organise the return of its staff to campuses over the next six months while staff feel it is unsafe.
In-person teaching is currently set to resume at the end of February at the earliest, with students asked to return in a staggered approach after the February half-term
The potential for more strikes will undoubtably worry students about the possibility of losing more teaching time in an already heavily disrupted year, with thousands already signing an online petition claiming they are not receiving ‘value for money’.
Previous strikes in Spring 2018, Autumn 2019 and Spring 2020 over staff pensions caused widespread disruption to teaching and learning across much of campus, especially in departments that focused on humanities and social sciences.
Students studying a four-year course that started in September 2017 have so far had 36 days of disruption to their course over a total period of 10 weeks.
Whilst those strikes were a maximum of four weeks each, there is concern that any future strikes over Coronavirus could last longer, in an attempt to prevent universities from “sacrific[ing]staff and student wellbeing on the altar of short-term financial incentives.”
The UCU General Secretary, Jo Grady, said that “We need as much university teaching as possible to remain online for the rest of the academic year.”
“If the government and universities will not commit to prioritising staff safety then UCU will continue to resist a return to unsafe campuses”.
UCU branches at Northumbria and Birmingham City have already voted for strike action, with another ballot at Manchester Met closing this week.
The Union also argues that staff have had to deal with “unmanageable workloads over the past year” in preparing for both in-person and online provision, and that a clear decision was now needed to “allow staff to plan accordingly.”
The threat of more industrial action continues on from previous lobbying at the start of the academic year to end in-person teaching.
At the time, Loughborough’s UCU branch told Label that they would have no intention to strike over in-person teaching unless a national ballot took place, although they said that they stood in “solidarity with other UCU branches across the sector which have taken decisions that they believe necessary to ensure the safety and well-being on their campuses.”
But with the Coronavirus situation worsening around the country, and concerns about the mass vaccination programme and the types of tests being used on students, the national UCU now claims there is “further evidence that a rushed return could compromise safety.”
Loughborough Students’ Union did not oppose strike action in 2018, 2019 or 2020, instead deciding to “stay neutral in the conversation” to allow them to “lobby and interact with both stakeholders”.