UCU: students should not be allowed to return to university this September


The University and College Union announced that plans for face to face teaching to start this academic year should not take place. Instead, students should stay at home and study online to prevent a second wave of coronavirus.

The UCU general secretary, Jo Grady told the BBC this morning that “encouraging the mass-migration of a million people with no national plan track and trace plan for COVID is incredibly reckless and risks a public health emergency.”

She followed by saying that universities may become the care homes of the second wave with students interactions causing “a silent avalanche of infections”. The UCU has suggested that the UK could be like other European countries that have attempted to return students to campus where many have shut down within the fortnight of opening.

Jo Grady, the UCU general secretary warns that students returning to university will cause a second wave coronavirus. Image via UCU

The largest trade national union for lecturers and academics have said that either students should not return or the government needs to invest and implement in a systematic testing regime. The UCU stated, “We now need to see a proper health and safety plan for how large numbers of students will be welcomed to university safely in the middle of a pandemic.”

From the student perspective, Larissa Kennedy, the president of the National Union of Students, told BBC Breakfast that universities needed to “refrain from in-person teaching” except for classes in technical labs or studios, where this is no viable alternative. She added, “We need to ensure remote learning is as accessible as possible and I think we need to do that really quickly.”

Universities argue that the measures that they have taken over the last few months make it safe for students to return.

Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford said that “right now it is as safe as it ever has been to go back” to campuses.

Durham University’s measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus include one way systems in university buildings, restricted library access, promoting social distancing through signposting across campus, and suitable ventilation systems.

Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge explains Durham University plans to return students to campus in September

The Department of Education supports the current plans put forward by universities saying it is vital for students to return to education when it is safe to do so. They say that reopening university is “part of Boris Johnson’s cautious roadmap” and they are keeping their guidance under constant review.

Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK said: “Many staff want to return to in-person teaching, research and other activities where it is safe and appropriate to do so.”

As well as staff, many students are wanting to return to university, having been restricted from face to face education since March.

Durham students are expected to abide by new policies on the use of face coverings and social distancing protocols. Those living in college will be organised into households. Time studying in the Bill Bryson library is limited to eight hours a week. Clubs will be closed. Balls will not take place. College facilities will be limited. Many sport, drama, music and social societies will not operate or see their activities restricted.

However, there is no guarantee that students will abide by social distancing measures in their downtime. The University of West England in Bristol, University College London and the University of East Anglia have announced that students that socialise outside their bubble will be fined.

Durham University has not revealed whether disciplinary measures will be taken against students who violate social distancing.

Image: Grunigen Medical Library via Flickr

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