The University and College Union (UCU ) said universities and colleges should follow recent guidance to schools and remain closed to most staff and students until the spring.
UCU general secretary Dr Jo Grady commented following an announcement from the prime minister that schools in England would not reopen immediately after the February half-term, but could do so from 8 March. Dr Grady said higher education institutions should remain online-only for most students and staff until the end of the academic term.
Students on healthcare, medical and teaching courses can learn on campus – but universities remain closed for the vast majority of students until late-February. This government guidance, issued in January, may change in light of the new policy for schools. Boris Johnson said a final decision on school reopenings would depend on meeting vaccination targets. Schools would get two weeks’ notice of a start date, he added. Universities would likely need longer to give students time to book travel.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “It is scandalous that yet again the prime minister has not even bothered to mention further or higher education as part of his statement on plans to fully reopen school sites.
“Staff in further and higher education need to be able to plan their work over the coming months in the knowledge they will not be forced to do unnecessary and unsafe in-person activities.
“That includes working in libraries, offices on campus, and other potentially unsafe environments as well as seminar rooms and laboratories. The government needs to admit that it is not safe for university students to travel back to their term-time accommodation, and pledge to keep all but essential teaching online until at least April in colleges and until the end of the current academic term in universities.’
“University and college staff are burnt out from the chaotic and unsustainable demands which the sector has placed on them this year. We need certainty and stability if staff are to continue delivering the best possible remote learning for students.”