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Covid-19 HE

Online learning and the national lockdown

3 November 2020 | last updated: 23 November 2020

The prime minister's announcement of another national lockdown in England, starting on Thursday, was accompanied by new guidance specifying that 'universities and adult education settings should consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible'.

Since that guidance appeared we have already seen a few institutions declare that they are moving to fully online learning (except for subjects where on-site attendance is absolutely necessary) for the duration of the lockdown period. 
Today I have written to vice-chancellors of institutions that have not yet moved online to ask them to take this step immediately in the interests of reducing transmission as quickly as possible.

I spoke to the universities minister on Sunday and she reiterated that while the government's guidance does not force universities to change their approach, universities are autonomous and can do as they wish.

It is the responsibility of university managers to prioritise the health and safety of students, staff and the wider community by making the choice to reduce in-person working as far as possible. Clearly, several vice-chancellors have already recognised that they are able to do this and there is no good reason for others not to follow their example.

The government's own scientific advisors identified in-person teaching as an area of risk and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) recommended a move online as early as September. As you know, UCU is already preparing to take legal action against the Westminster government over its decision not to follow that advice, but in the meantime there needs to be continual pressure on employers to exercise their autonomy and put safety first. Several UCU branches have already chosen to ballot for industrial action over staff health and safety and we will continue to use every form of pressure and leverage available to make employers change their practices and instructions to staff. 
I know that you will be doing everything you can in your branches to encourage your managers to do the right thing if they haven't already, and move all but essential activities online. I continue to receive supportive emails from students and parents as well as staff who are well aware of how poorly the situation has been handled and are grateful to UCU for speaking out and taking action.

Finally, if you haven't already, please join the thousands of people who have signed our petition calling on the government to guarantee funding for universities and allow them to move teaching online where possible.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary