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Manchester Metropolitan University staff say concerns over safety were not listened to

27 September 2020 | last updated: 28 September 2020

Staff at Manchester Metropolitan University say they feel nothing but sympathy for the 1,700 students under lockdown in halls of residence.

In a statement*, the local UCU branch said it raised concerns that a return to campus would result in the chaos now unfolding in the university's halls of residence and that the union's warnings over health and safety were not listened to.

UCU has called on Manchester Metropolitan University to move the majority of teaching online immediately - on Friday the university announced only teaching for foundation and first year students would move online. The union has previously called for online learning to be universities' default position in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

The union said responsibility for the current crisis also lay with the government and criticised a funding model it said forced universities to put financial concerns ahead of the safety of students, staff and the wider community.

UCU regional official Martyn Moss said: 'We warned that that not enough was being done to make campuses safe and that the mass return of students would inevitably see institutions become Covid incubators. Instead of heeding our warnings, universities pushed the idea that students could return to open "Covid-secure" campuses.

'Universities should have spent the summer following the science and preparing properly for this inevitable crisis, instead of trying to sell the idea of a normal university experience to students.

'Ministers and universities must not try to use students as scapegoats for a wholly predictable crisis of their own making.'

 

* FULL STATEMENT

We feel nothing but sympathy for the students under lockdown in Birley and Cambridge halls of residence, and their families. Staff on the ground have been working very hard to do the best for our students, often without the support they need to do their jobs. This has been an exceptionally difficult time for employees and our members report working unsustainable hours to meet managerial instructions.

As a union, we warned senior managers that the outcome of returning to campus in the manner they proposed would be the situation we are now seeing unfold. We have said this repeatedly in formal and informal meetings, and in writing. On 13 September we wrote to vice-chancellor Malcom Press outlining our concerns about safety and the need to factor human behaviour into safety assessments. Our warnings went unheeded.

We do not view the university as solely responsible for this situation although we believe different decisions could have been made. Responsibility also lies with this Government and with the funding model of higher education which forces institutions to privilege financial concerns over the safety of students, staff and the wider community.

The branch has called on the university to provide up to date figures for confirmed Covid-19 cases amongst staff and students not living in halls.

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