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UCU response to potential Christmas lockdown for students away from home

24 September 2020 | last updated: 28 September 2020

Union says minister's threat of Christmas lockdown is not the solution and the plans are based on a flawed vision of university life

In response to Matt Hancock refusing to rule out lockdowns for university students over Christmas, UCU said the government must listen to the science, look at the experiences from other countries and tell universities to make online learning their default position immediately.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: 'Unless the government acts now, thousands more students will move onto campus this weekend. It is completely irresponsible to let students go back to university when outbreaks have already started.

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

'Locking students down at Christmas is based on a flawed boarding school vision of university that ignores the fact thousands of staff and students commute every day around the UK to and from university. Threatening to lock students up over the festive period is not the solution.

'The scientific evidence, and the experience of other countries, shows that a failure to act now will intensify the public health crisis. We are already seeing outbreaks before term has even started in places like Liverpool.

'Ministers need to tell universities to halt in-person teaching, stop more students moving onto campus and issue clear guidance to move the majority of work online, as in other workplaces. Universities should not try and hide behind the government's failings on this issue though. Any institution that refuses to put the health of its staff, students and local community first is failing its basic civic duty.'

Health minister Matt Hancock told the BBC the government refused to rule out telling university students not to go home at Christmas to avoid spreading infection.

iNews reported that the latest minutes from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) raised concerns that students will spread the disease to their local communities when they return home for the Christmas break, and urged ministers to develop policies to mitigate the risks posed.

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