The University and College Union (UCU) has written to prime minster Boris Johnson to urge the government to make online learning a default position for institutions ‘in order to protect students’ education and stop any further damage to community health’.
The union accuses universities of hiding behind government guidance and calls for the prime minister to adopt a clear policy that the majority of teaching should be online. UCU also calls for students to be allowed to return home if they wish without fear of financial penalty for leaving student accommodation.
Last week, Manchester Metropolitan University locked down around 1,700 students in halls of residence. Despite this, the university said it was only moving learning online for foundation year students and first years.
Yesterday Professor Mark Woodhouse, from the government’s pandemic modelling group, said that the current crisis was not only ‘entirely predictable’, but that modelling showed halls of residences and in-person teaching were areas of risk.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Given the rapidly changing situation and the increasing Covid outbreaks, now is the time for swift action and to move the majority of universities’ work online. We are not prepared to take chances with the health and safety of students, staff or local communities.
“Manchester Metropolitan University shifting teaching online only for foundation and first year students, for example, exposes the absurdity of trying to continue with blended learning. There is no point encouraging students to come to university to self-isolate for a fortnight and doing so now looks even more like a cynical effort to extract accommodation fees and then worry about what to do.
“We cannot have students forced to quarantine in halls of residence with no familiar support network, or staff forced to carry out work on site that could be conducted more safely from home. Students must be allowed to safely return home if they wish to and without fear of financial penalty for leaving their student accommodation.
“We now understand that pandemic modelling identified halls and in-person teaching as areas of risk, yet the government insisted universities continued to welcome students . We want the prime minster to explain why that modelling was ignored.
“We believe a summer spent selling a university experience to prospective students that couldn’t be delivered would have been better spent following the science and preparing properly for this inevitable crisis.’