UCU backs government’s decision not to lift in-person teaching restrictions at English universities

Other sector stakeholders are asking for clarity over the government’s plans for the new term, with the NUS saying “It is unforgivable that higher education continues to be left in the dark”

The government’s decision not to lift restrictions on in-person teaching at English universities has been welcomed by the University and College Union (UCU).

“After a year of dithering and delay from ministers, it now looks like they have belatedly listened to our demands and will keep learning online until at least 17 May,” said UCU general secretary Jo Grady, on Monday (12 April), as the latest lockdown was partially eased.

Although mid-May is the next date on the government’s reopening roadmap, Grady said it would “make absolutely no sense” for higher education to restart in-person activities then, citing the near-end of the academic year and “undue pressure on staff.

“Too many universities are still calling for in-person activities and ‘blended learning’,” she added. “Instead, they should focus on providing proper health and wellbeing support to students and staff, as well as helping staff prepare for the next academic year.

“Ministers now need to be honest with staff and students and confirm most courses will stay online until September.”

Students deserve better than to be ignored, yet again, by this government – Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS vice president for higher education

While the UCU has been something of an outlier on the issue of restarting on-campus learning, with a large number of HE bodies – and not least the students themselves – backing an earlier return, its call for clarity over future plans is altogether more in keeping with general opinion.

“It is unforgivable that higher education continues to be left in the dark about plans for the new term,” said Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS vice president for higher education, on Monday.

“This is needlessly causing distress, with students consistently treated as low priority, leaving them vulnerable and deepening the mental health crisis. We understand a return to campuses may need to be done cautiously, but this is no excuse for ignoring the matter entirely.

“Students need clarity about when they can expect to be back on campus, to allow them to make necessary arrangements for their learning and accommodation. Students deserve better [than] to be ignored, yet again, by this government.”

Last week, Prof Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK, branded the government’s decision not to reopen campuses “illogical”, while the new shadow universities minister accused his opposite number of failing to offer the sector leadership on the issue.

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