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UCU launches petition demanding universities move online as campus Covid-19 cases hit 20k

16 October 2020

UCU has launched a petition demanding the UK government move learning online at universities immediately, as the total number of reported Covid-19 cases on campus since the start of term rose to over 20,000.

UCU launched its Covid-19 dashboard a week ago when universities were reporting around 10,000 cases.

UCU's petition calls on the government to immediately implement the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) recommendations and move to online learning in universities, as well as provide additional funding to protect students and staff from the impacts of the Covid crisis.

This week it emerged that ministers ignored a series of measures recommended by SAGE in mid-September, which included moving all university and college teaching online unless in-person teaching was absolutely essential. UCU has been calling for university teaching to be moved online since August.

The union said deep-rooted flaws in how universities are funded had encouraged institutions to bring students back onto campus because of their reliance on tuition and accommodation fees. It said the government now needed to stand behind the sector with secure funding that allows health and safety to be the top priority.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'We have now seen over 20,000 cases of Covid at universities since the start of term. But even as much of the UK is moving into stricter measures to contain the pandemic, in-person activities are continuing on campus causing infections to rise. We repeatedly warned that the mass movement of students around the country would cause a public health disaster but our pleas fell on deaf ears.

'The pandemic has exposed deep-rooted flaws in how universities are funded. The government's failure to stand behind the sector in this time of crisis has meant institutions have been encouraged to prioritise student recruitment over health and safety, with staff and students now paying the price.

'We are urging everyone to sign our petition so the government understands that it needs to move learning online now, and provide additional funding to support flexibility for students, stability for the sector and safety for all.'

UCU has also launched a video, 'a preventable crisis', which shows why universities must halt in-person teaching. 

Last updated: 16 October 2020