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Face-to-face teaching

Despite Covid cases mushrooming on university campuses up and down the country, University of Brighton management are maintaining their insistence that non-essential face-to-face teaching must go ahead.

Estimates of prevalence of the virus in the 18-24 age group is between 0.5% and 1.0% and we learned on Friday that 770 students at Northumbria University had tested positive, with only 78 of them symptomatic. Neither Brighton or Sussex universities are doing routine testing so the 90% of asymptomatic cases here will go undetected.

Covid cases in Brighton 

Although the overall rate in Brighton is low, there have now been cases among students and/or staff at both local universities. Senior management at Brighton University have finally acceded to the union demand that they inform the university community about the progress of the virus among us. Along with the University of Sussex (put under similar pressure by their unions and student union) they are releasing a weekly tally of confirmed cases.  In this fast moving context, this is inadequate and we must insist on daily tallies and the dashboard method common in US universities and increasingly being used in the UK.

Covid-secure campuses?

UCU opposes the forcing of staff into campus to take classes that could be taught online. Management’s repeated use the phrase ‘Covid-secure’ cannot disguise that conditions are unsafe, particularly for staff in categories that give them higher susceptibility to the disease. With teaching now under way, there still have been no checks that ventilation standards in each teaching room meet the required number of air changes per hour, and there is no provision in the enhanced cleaning policy for any cleaning of classrooms between classes, beyond any wiping-down users may choose to do for themselves.

Rather than make face coverings compulsory in teaching rooms where it doesn’t impede learning, the University has acquired a stock of visors for the use of teaching staff. Making face coverings voluntary inverts reality by assuming that they are for self-protection rather than a commitment by the wearer not to spread the virus to others.

Nevertheless, there are signs that the University’s policy is breaking down. In some schools, virtually no F2F teaching is taking place and staff have been allowed to choose to continue working entirely from home.

What you can do

Members who are being required to come in should not take management assurances about the safety of teaching and work spaces at face value. You should consider, among other factors:

  • Can 2m social distancing be maintained given the activity you plan for the class?
  • If not, and it is really necessary that the activity goes ahead, do you have the necessary PPE?
  • When you enter it, has the room been empty and ventilated for sufficient time since the previous class?
  • Have you seen evidence that the recommended minimum of six air changes per hour is achieved in your teaching room and are you clear about how that can be achieved (e.g. how many windows need to be open)
  • Have chairs, tables and touch-points been cleaned since the previous class? Bear in mind that it is routine for tables and chairs to be cleaned between each group of customers in pubs and restaurants.

If you are worried that your working conditions are unsafe, you are entitled by law to decline to put yourself in that situation. UCU advice is:

  1. Discuss the situation with your students. It is not their fault that they were promised F2F teaching by a reckless management who refused to consider the possibility of a second spike in the pandemic. Many will now be worrying about contracting and passing on infection not least because youth appears to be no protection from the longer lasting effects of Covid known as ‘long Covid’.
  2. Try to come to a common view among your immediate colleagues with whom you share the same spaces and conditions.
  3. Contact a UCU Health & Safety rep or branch officer. They can do inspections of workspaces and take up issues with management. Our H&S reps are Falmer – Tucker MacNeill; Moulsecoomb – Sheila Cullen; Grand Parade – Sue Gollifer & Mary Anne Francis; Eastbourne – Josh Cameron.

Making common cause with students and linking up with other branches

Last Thursday’s very well attended UCU members’ meeting passed the following motion:

Brighton UCU notes 

  • Over 50 universities reporting cases of Covid-19 among students.
  • Students in halls of residence being locked down en masse, and uncertainty as to whether they can return home or seek rent reimbursements.
  • Universities used the promise of face-to-face teaching to encourage students to come to halls in the first place.
  • Risks to staff, students and the local community of Covid-19 community spread predicted by iSAGE, UCU and others.

Brighton UCU resolves

  1. To build a practical network of support and solidarity towards our students, and to approach other campus trade unions and SU to support.
  2. To support the call for a UK-Wide Staff-Student Assembly on Saturday 10 October initiated by the UCU Solidarity Movement [below], and similar initiatives in the future.

Emergency Student/Staff Assembly 

10th October 2020, 11am-1pm

Called by UCU Solidarity Movement

“UCU Solidarity Movement are hosting an Emergency Student/Staff Assembly for all four nations on Saturday 10th October. We’d ask that all union organisations who agree, to publicise this call and support the UCU Solidarity Movement in building this event.

“This event is aimed at linking students and trade union members across Further and Higher Education. Our colleagues, students and communities in and around colleges and universities are now in the front-line of dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.

“The experience thus far of the HE sector in England and the devolved nations – covering at least 50 universities with Covid-19 outbreaks – shows the urgency of this initiative. We ask that all trade union activists and branches and organisations of all four nations who support this initiative help us publicise and build the event.”

All welcome! Click here to register.

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