UCU Logo

“Move universities online now” – union’s demand to PM

  • Locking students down in Manchester and continuing in-person teaching with others highlights “absurdity” of current situation
  • Union says students should be allowed to leave student accommodation without financial penalty
  • UCU calls on government to explain why it ignored risk warnings over in-person teaching and halls of residence

The University and College Union (UCU) has today (Monday) written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson* to urge him to make online learning universities’ default position, protect students’ education and stop any further damage to community health.

The union accuses universities of hiding behind government guidance and calls for the prime minister to adopt a clear policy that the majority of teaching should be online. UCU also calls for students to be allowed to return home if they wish without fear of financial penalty for leaving student accommodation.

On Friday evening, Manchester Metropolitan University locked down around 1,700 students  in halls of residence. Despite this, the university said it was only moving learning online for foundation year students and first years.

Yesterday Professor Mark Woodhouse, from the government’s pandemic modelling group, said that the current crisis was not only “entirely predictable”, but that modelling showed halls of residences and in-person teaching were areas of risk.

Jo Grady 100x100UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘Given the rapidly changing situation and the increasing Covid outbreaks, now is the time for swift action and to move the majority of universities’ work online. We are not prepared to take chances with the health and safety of students, staff or local communities.

‘Manchester Metropolitan University shifting teaching online only for foundation and first year students, for example, exposes the absurdity of trying to continue with blended learning. There is no point encouraging students to come to university to self-isolate for a fortnight and doing so now looks even more like a cynical effort to extract accommodation fees and then worry about what to do.

‘We cannot have students forced to quarantine in halls of residence with no familiar support network, or staff forced to carry out work on site that could be conducted more safely from home. Students must be allowed to safely return home if they wish to and without fear of financial penalty for leaving their student accommodation.

‘We now understand that pandemic modelling identified halls and in-person teaching as areas of risk, yet the government insisted universities continued to welcome students . We want the Prime Minster to explain why that modelling was ignored.

‘We believe summer spent selling a university experience to prospective students that couldn’t be delivered would have been better spent following the science and preparing properly for this inevitable crisis.’

* Full letter

Dear Prime Minister

Safety on campuses – minimising in person teaching

I am writing from the University and College Union to urge you strengthen and clarify the current guidance for the safe return to university campus, and to ensure Covid-19 does not threaten to derail our students’ education and further damage the health of our communities.

Given the rapidly changing situation and the growing prevalence of Covid-19 across the country, and with the number of outbreaks on university campuses even at this early stage of the new academic year, now is the time for swift action and to ensure online teaching becomes the norm.

As you will be aware, UCU has been calling for some time for all higher education activity that can feasibly be undertaken remotely to be done so, and we have set out this position in the discussions with your colleague, universities minister Michelle Donelan.

We are only a week or two into the new academic year, and we already have Covid-19 outbreaks at institutions in Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, and these are unlikely to be the last examples.

We know that the virus spreads exponentially indoors and that it is most prevalent amongst 17-21 year-olds. We have also seen the terrible impact that the virus has had already in this country, and my union is not prepared to take chances with health of students, our members and the communities they serve. It is clear that remote learning should be the default for campus life while we are in this precarious position with the virus.

However, what we are seeing on the ground is university employers hiding behind the government's current sectoral guidance, with all the ambiguities associated with the term "blended learning".

Professor Mark Woodhouse, from your government’s own pandemic modelling group, said yesterday that the current situation was not only entirely predictable, but that modelling showed halls of residences and in-person teaching were areas of risk.

Whilst other sectors are being encouraged by the government to work from home to help control the spread of the virus, universities are requiring staff to travel across their local regions to work on-site and in-person with any number of students.

Considering the known risks associated with in-person teaching and students living in close quarters, why did the government not insist on minimising in-person teaching and students travelling to universities?

We have concerns that universities are taking this stubborn position because they depend on rents from student accommodation – and because your own government refuses to step in and underwrite universities' lost income for the duration of the pandemic to ensure they are not negatively impacted and jobs are not lost.

Our union is urging greater leadership from government on this matter, and clearer direction from you that all activity that can be done online should be done online for the time being. Taking this more sensible and cautious approach will help address the severe anxieties of staff in the sector, reduce in-person interaction between students, and help limit the spread of the virus.

I recognise the need to keep universities open, and your commitment to this, but I am urging you to join us in calling for all institutions to follow the example of providers such as Birkbeck London, Liverpool John Moores and Liverpool Hope, and move away from the lecture hall and to high quality online teaching as a way to protect staff and students.

Campus life cannot currently be safe with in-person teaching. Those currently working and studying in our universities need a national strategy that accepts this, moves teaching online for the duration of this term, and ensures students can safely return home where possible.

Action is needed now to protect the safety of students, staff and the wider community at this pivotal moment in the epidemic and I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Jo Grady

General secretary

University and College Union

 

You may also be interested in these articles:

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertisers

Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

PwC CPD Webinar: Social Mobility

PwC CPD Webinar: Social Mobility

NGWLive: Aldi Graduate Hints & Tips

NGWLive: Aldi Graduate Hints & Tips

Jo Moriani added a new event 59 minutes ago

Protecting your psychological health and wellbeing from...

Overview This webinar will discuss the following: • Why and how amid and in the pandemic recovery phase supporting students to be able to stay on...

  • Wednesday, 04 November 2020 10:00 AM
  • Online

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page