UCU calls for a nationally coordinated response from government to move learning online

Newcastle and Sheffield’s universities move towards online learning, but measures do not go far enough, says UCU

The University and College Union (UCU) today (Wednesday) welcomed the decision by Northumbria University to move learning online after its members threatened to ballot for industrial action over Covid health and safety failings. However, the union said the decision should have been taken earlier, and urged other universities to move their work online.

Both Northumbria University and the University of Newcastle will move learning online tomorrow for a minimum of three weeks. Newcastle has some of the highest rates of Covid UK and saw 1,227 new cases last week.

… it should not have taken the threat of industrial action for Northumbria University to put the health and safety of its staff and students first – Iain Owens, UCU regional official

UCU regional official Iain Owens said: “It was the right decision for Newcastle’s universities to move learning online. But it should not have taken the threat of industrial action for Northumbria University to put the health and safety of its staff and students first.

“Newcastle’s universities need to make sure staff are given the resources to provide students with a high quality remote learning experience and undertake careful longer term planning. They also need to fully consult with unions before any return to in-person teaching, and not rush to get staff and students back onto campus.

“We now desperately need a nationally coordinated response from government that moves working online across all universities to help lower the rate of transmission and stem this crisis.”

Government must ‘change its guidance immediately’

Meanwhile, Sheffield’s universities’ decision to move only some teaching online do not go far enough, said the UCU today and showed the government needs to change its guidance immediately.

This week, the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University both said they will move more learning online. The University of Sheffield said all teaching will move online from Friday until 18 October; Sheffield Hallam will increase the proportion of online teaching, but keep some on campus.

Sheffield Hallam has seen over 370 cases of Covid since the beginning of term and the University of Sheffield has seen 589 cases. The local area has also seen a dramatic increase in the number of people testing positive.

The measures taken by Sheffield’s universities will not do enough to help stop the spread of the virus – Julie Kelley, UCU regional official

UCU regional official Julie Kelley said: ‘The measures taken by Sheffield’s universities will not do enough to help stop the spread of the virus. The University of Sheffield is pausing in-person teaching for a week, yet the quarantine periods last 14 days, and Sheffield Hallam is still continuing with some in-person teaching on campus.

“We have seen a huge increase in transmission in the local area and local outbreaks. Sheffield’s universities need to make sure staff are given the resources to provide students with a high-quality remote learning experience and undertake careful longer term planning, instead of rushing to return to in-person teaching.

The piecemeal approach being taken by universities shows how dangerous the government’s lack of planning has been – Julie Kelley, UCU regional official

“The piecemeal approach being taken by universities shows how dangerous the government’s lack of planning has been. We desperately need a nationally coordinated response from government that moves working online to help lower the rate of transmission and stem this crisis.”


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