A leading union has called on universities to push teaching online amid England’s new lockdown.
The University and College Union has written to vice-chancellors to ask them to stop all non-essential in-person activities, and make them virtual instead.
Their call comes ahead of England’s new month-long lockdown over coronavirus, during which the government has insisted educational settings shall remain open.
In guidance over the new restrictions, the government said universities should consider “moving to increased levels of online learning where possible”.
Some institutions have already shifted large amounts of learning online this term, including ones in Liverpool, the University of Manchester and the University of Essex.
“Following updated guidance from the Westminster government, we are calling on vice-chancellors in England to exercise their autonomy and move all non-essential activities online now,” UCU’s general secretary, Jo Grady, said.
“Universities must not risk the health and safety of staff and students by allowing non-essential in-person activities to continue.”
She added: “Reducing the amount of in-person teaching and travel to and from campus will minimise the spread of Covid-19 and keep people as safe as possible.”
Since the return to campus, most universities have offered students blended learning, which is a mix of face-to-face and online classes.
However, some decided to push more teaching online during term after a surge of local coronavirus cases.
More than 35,000 Covid-19 infections have been reported at UK campuses this term to date, according to the UCU.
We are prioritising students’ education by keeping universities open including campus facilities like libraries. Our guidance sets out – students should stay living in their current accommodation and commuter students can continue to go to campus.
— Michelle Donelan MP #stayalert (@michelledonelan) November 3, 2020
Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said on Tuesday: “We are prioritising students’ education by keeping universities open including campus facilities like libraries.”
She pointed towards new Department for Education (DfE) guidance, which says: “Universities should continue to agree with their local public health teams on the appropriate balance of online and in person teaching, based on the overall assessment of the public health risks, including to the mental health of students and the status of local outbreaks.”
The DfE has been approached by The Independent over the UCU’s letter to vice-chancellors.
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