Fresh woe for students as university staff threaten strike action

Fresh woe for students as university staff threaten strike action if they are asked to resume ‘unsafe’ in-person teaching this academic year

  • University and College Union warned of action if in-person teaching resumes
  • Members already balloted at Northumbria and Birmingham City universities
  • Under current lockdown rules students are not permitted to return to campuses 

University students will face fresh concerns when they resume studies as a union has warned of strikes if lecturers are asked to resume ‘unsafe’ in-person teaching.

The University and College Union (UCU) said online learning should remain in place to protect staff, students and communities.

Describing university staff as ‘burnt out’ by the demands placed on them, the union said moves to restart face-to-face teaching this academic year were “impractical”.

It warned it was prepared to ballot members on industrial action, as has already taken place at its branches at Northumbria University and Birmingham City University.

Members have been balloted on possible strike action at Birmingham City University

Northumbria University has already discussed possible strike action, according to the University and College Union

Another at Manchester Metropolitan University is due to close next week.

Under the current lockdown in England, university students who were allowed to travel home before Christmas, are not permitted to return to campus and are expected to study from their current residence.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady, 37, said: “We need as much university teaching as possible to remain online for the rest of the academic year.

“Death rates are higher than ever, and with the Government’s rapid testing programme under severe scrutiny and the huge logistical hurdles in rolling out the vaccine, even an Easter return now looks hopelessly optimistic.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady says university teaching should continue online for the rest of the academic year

“If the Government and universities will not commit to prioritising staff safety then UCU will continue to resist a return to unsafe campuses while committing to provide the highest possible quality of online teaching.

“We are willing to ballot universities that are putting our members’ wellbeing at risk and some UCU branches have already taken this step.

“University staff are also burnt out from the chaotic and unsustainable demands which the sector has placed on them this year.”

In-person teaching can only take place for a small number of critical courses, including medicine, dentistry, teacher training, veterinary science and social work.

According to Department for Education guidance published this month, all other courses should be delivered online “until at least mid-February”.

Miss Grady added the UCU was prepared to work with universities in calling on the Government to refund students the costs of “lost accommodation” as well as “underwriting the other extra costs which universities are facing this year”.

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