In the news 18 September 2020

18 September 2020

UCU puts universities on notice amidst Covid testing chaos

There have been reports throughout the week that the government's Covid testing programme is at breaking point. The chaos has already hit schools across the country, with at least 300 schools in England and Wales sending some pupils home due to Covid, another 30 having to close within the past two weeks, and up to 25,000 teachers in England self-isolating.

On Wednesday, UCU said government and employers must have plans in place to deal with Covid as it launched a system to allow members to directly relay their concerns. The union said its plans were prompted after it was revealed that the Department for Education does not hold information on the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in schools. UCU said it would name and shame colleges or universities that were not doing enough to keep staff, students and the wider community safe.

Speaking to Tes, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Any institution not preparing for how it deals with one is in denial and failing staff, students and the wider community. We have already seen warnings that schools could be brought to a halt due to a lack of testing. We want to know what plans colleges and universities have for testing, details of their risk assessments and how they will protect people in the event of an outbreak.'


Cutting face-to-face teaching 'best way' to control Covid spread

On Tuesday, Times Higher reported that a study showed cutting face-to-face teaching is the most effective way to reduce coronavirus transmission on campuses. The study found that about a fifth of students could catch the virus by the end of the first term if additional protections were not put in place, with three-quarters infected by the end of the academic year.

It also pointed to high levels of mixing at halls of residence as being a big risk factor, backing up UCU's calls to stop any wider reopening of campuses and prevent universities becoming Covid hotspots.


Covid-19: less than 1 in 4 staff feel safe returning to campus

Yesterday Times Higher reported that less than one in four university staff feel safe returning to campus according to a global survey they conducted.

In the survey, which was completed by 1,195 academics and higher education professionals around the world, nearly nine out of 10 respondents said that they were concerned that reopening campuses could lead to a spike in Covid cases in their area. By a two-to-one margin, respondents identified financial concerns as the key factor in institutions' reopening plans, ahead of staff and student safety.

Jo Grady said that the survey revealed "well-founded worries" about safety and argued that all learning should stay online.


One in eight college staff leave within a year

On Wednesday, Tes reported that , according to a new government survey, one in eight teachers and leaders left their college job within the past year - and half of them left education altogether. Poor college management and difficult workloads were the most common reasons staff chose to quit.

Jo Grady said: 'It is no wonder that one in eight college staff left their job within the last year when so many have to contend with poor college management and unmanageable workloads.

'When viewed alongside the government's 2018 college survey, which showed over half of college principals found it difficult to recruit, this points to a hiring crisis. We need the government to invest in the sector and make further education an attractive and rewarding career, so that it can help lead our recovery.'


Jo Grady tells TUC a second Covid wave can be prevented, but unions must lead the way

In her speech to Trades Union Congress (TUC) 2020 on Monday, Jo Grady said a second Covid wave was preventable if ministers and universities follow the science and move as much work at colleges and universities as possible online.

Jo said unions were the only organisations with the power to keep workplaces and the wider population safe. She said the government had no answers that do not rely on rebooting the economy by asking us to pay with our health.

Writing in the Morning Star Monday morning, Jo said the pandemic had brought the inherent failings of the marketised post-16 education system into sharp focus. She urged union members to back UCU's Fund the Future campaign.  


Colleges face financial struggles

Sky News reported Wednesday that the National Audit Office showed core funding for the college sector has fallen and its financial health "remains fragile", with an increasing number of colleges across the UK under financial pressure due to the coronavirus crisis. It warned that mental health and careers support for college students had also reduced.

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: 'This study shows the current college funding system is not fit for purpose. Severe cuts to further education have led to job losses, course closures and fewer learning opportunities.

'We need a radical overhaul where colleges are brought back into national ownership and funded properly. Colleges must be a vital part of our national recovery plan, but they can only do that with proper funding and support.'


Exeter University staff call for immediate end to face-to-face teaching to stop serious Covid risk

Today, Devon Live reported that UCU members at Exeter University have called for face-to face teaching to be stopped immediately and be transferred to online because it believes the lives and health of students and the local community are being put at 'serious' risk.

Exeter University UCU claimed students were 'mis-sold' a 'meaningful experience' beyond the classroom by university leaders in the run-up to the start of the academic year.

In a letter to Exeter University's vice-chancellor the local branch said staff were gravely concerned by the worsening of the national situation and expressed serious concerns for the safety of staff, noting the enhanced health risks of infection to older staff and students, BAME staff and students, those who are medically vulnerable, and their families, and the inherent equality issues that the response to the current pandemic raises.'

Last updated: 18 September 2020