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Prime minister's 'ridiculously irresponsible' plan to force students to stay at university in event of Covid outbreak

9 September 2020

Boris Johnson should be working to prevent unnecessary Covid outbreaks, not creating the conditions for them.

UCU said the prime minister's plan to force students to stay in their university town or city in the event of a future lockdown was 'ridiculously irresponsible'. The union said universities should move the majority of teaching online to avoid students having to travel across the country and risk being locked down in unfamiliar surroundings.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Even by the government's standards, these plans are ridiculously irresponsible. Mixed messages and contradictory advice might be his stock in trade, but the prime minister cannot in good conscience tell students to go back to university when he knows more outbreaks are likely and that would result in them being locked down hundreds of miles from home.

'The prime minister should be working to prevent unnecessary Covid outbreaks, not creating the conditions for them. Students and their parents will be rightly worried about being locked down in an unfamiliar area, possibly over Christmas.

'The sensible thing to do is to move most teaching online for this term and look to reopen campuses more widely only when that can be done safely. Students need to be released from accommodation contracts they do not need, and staff must be given assurances they will not be asked to deliver in person, what can be done remotely. The health and wellbeing of university staff, students and the wider community are too important to gamble with, this is not business as usual.'

Last week UCU said that universities' default position should be online learning to avoid risking a major health crisis. On Friday the government's own scientific advisers SAGE raised concerns about the likelihood of increased cases on campus. On Monday, health secretary Matt Hancock said he was concerned about the reopening of universities, but suggested that students would be to blame for any second wave.

Last updated: 18 September 2020