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UCU Essex Statement on F2F Teaching (Fri 11 Sep 2020)

UCU Essex Statement on F2F Teaching

UCU Essex notes with concern the impact that huge numbers of students moving around the country and interacting in large numbers at close quarters will have on infection rates at a time when rates of infection in the UK are currently rising sharply. UCU Essex further notes that the UK government and the HE sector as a whole have failed to act effectively to minimise risks of Covid-19 infection or to support individual universities in their efforts to protect students, staff, and communities. In line with the position of UCU nationally, with the recommendation of the Independent SAGE group, and with lessons learned from the reopening of colleges and universities in the US, Essex UCU therefore calls for teaching to remain online/remote by default in the Autumn term (except where practically impossible, for example where study involves laboratory work). The recent all-staff survey conducted by Essex UCU highlights that many staff are concerned that conditions for safe on-campus working – such as a fully effective track-and-trace system and a sustained downward trend in infection rates across the UK – are lacking.

 

Our choice to endorse remote teaching by default is taken in view of the primacy of safety, which has guided our joint work with the University since April. This view also leads to our welcoming the leadership that the University has shown in attempting to rise to these challenges on a local level, especially its decision to provide testing on arrival for all students and staff and on a sample basis throughout the autumn term. UCU has been pushing for this safety measure to be put in place and we are pleased that the university management has listened to our reasons for why this is necessary. However, despite this positive development we believe the only way to avoid unacceptable risk to the health of our colleagues, students, and the wider community is to make remote teaching the default for autumn term and until such a time as face-to-face working can be resumed without risk of it contributing to Covid outbreaks.

Along with UCU nationally, we recognise that some staff and students may need to be on campus, and we will continue to call for improved safety measures and risk assessment processes to help make this as safe as possible. We call in particular for clearer, stronger rules about mask use on campus, for a reversion to 2m as the minimum distance for social distancing, for more robust systems in place to ensure compliance with safety rules, for a more extensive testing regime in line with the British Medical Journal’s guidance, and for widescale use of effective ventilation systems.

UCU Essex urges the University management to listen to the alarm bells ringing in the scientific community about universities as places where Covid outbreaks are inevitable by eliminating all F2F teaching whenever possible in the autumn term and until such time that it is genuinely safe. We also object in the strongest possible terms to coercing staff members to return to F2F teaching when they feel that it is unsafe to do so. We simultaneously call on the UK government to demonstrate its commitment to higher education by providing the financial support needed to help universities make the right choice with regard to safety.

Essex UCU

Fri 11 Sep 2020

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