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UCU says government plans for a return to in-person teaching 'doomed to fail'

30 December 2020

UCU today said that the government's plans for college and university students to resume in-person learning were "doomed to fail".

The union said after the recent drastic increase in positive cases and hospital admissions, all non-essential in-person teaching must move online at universities and colleges until Easter to help contain the pandemic.  

UCU was responding to a statement by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to the House of Commons on plans for teaching at colleges and universities next term. The union said plans to use lateral flow tests in colleges and universities would not work. It said that university students who do not need to return to their student accommodation must be urged to stay off campus to help contain the virus, and be released from accommodation contracts. It also said ministers must ensure that all students have the ability to learn remotely, so no one is left behind whilst being taught online. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'We now seem to be hurtling towards a national disaster, with the NHS about to be overwhelmed, but the government is wedded to using lateral flow tests to get students back onto campuses. 

'Keeping learning online until Easter would help lower rates of transmission and ensure a consistent learning experience, but the government continues to be fixated on forcing students and staff into lecture theatres and classrooms.  

'The lateral flow tests, which the government is relying on for a return to in-person teaching in colleges and universities miss an alarming number of people with Covid. Plans to use them to return to in-person teaching seem doomed to fail. One or two tests at the start of term will not be enough, and a regime of continuous testing in every university presents far too many logistical challenges.  

'As it stands, the window for the 'staggered return' of university students is shorter than the window in which they moved to university in September - and that mass movement led to more than 50,000 cases. We will have another term of students being forced in and out of isolation and staff being put at risk while their teaching plans are constantly disrupted.  

'These half measures will not bring the virus under control. Given the escalating rate of Covid cases, the government needs to halt all non-essential in-person teaching at colleges and universities until Easter. It needs to urge all university students who do not need to return to student accommodation to stay where they are, and release them from their accommodation contracts. Ministers must also ensure all students have the resources they need to learn remotely so that no one is left behind.' 

Last updated: 30 December 2020