A STRIKE threat has been issued at Manchester’s Metropolitan University – as students learned that in-person teaching was to resume in spite of the city’s current tier 3 status.
The University then told its staff to prepare to return to campus for in-person teaching, no more than four days after the city had entered into tier 3 lockdown.
But in response the University and College Union (UCU) insisted it is ‘reckless’ for the university to revert to such teaching just as the rest of the city is moving into tier 3 with the aim of controlling Covid-19.
The union has also said that if the decision to push ahead with in-person teaching is not reversed, it will have no choice but to ballot members for industrial action.
UCU said it had tried to discuss the dangers of in-person teaching with management through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), but had lodged a failure to agree notice when the university continued to demand staff return to campus.
Manchester entered tier 3 on Friday 23 October to stop the NHS being overwhelmed by the Covid health crisis. Four days later (Tuesday) Manchester Metropolitan University vice-chancellor Professor Malcolm Press told staff they must return to campus for in-person teaching from Monday 2 November, so that students are offered up to three hours of on-campus activity each week.
The university had moved teaching online on 7 October due to a huge increase in Covid infections across Manchester. The latest data show infection rates are continuing to rise across the city, with rates more than double the national average.
UCU regional official Martyn Moss said: ‘The people of Manchester are making huge sacrifices to try to contain the spread of the virus.
‘Yet Manchester Metropolitan University’s vice-chancellor wants to undermine the city’s sacrifice, and risk the health and safety of staff and students by urging them to return to campus.
‘Staff have spent the past three weeks teaching online, and the university needs to give them the resources to continue to provide students with the best possible remote learning experience under these difficult conditions, instead of rushing to return to in-person teaching.
‘We want to work with the university to make sure that staff and students are supported during this difficult time, and we tried to come to an agreement with management through ACAS – but asking staff to resume in-person teaching is unacceptable, so we have declared a dispute with the university.
‘If the vice-chancellor continues to risk the health of staff, students and the local community in this cavalier manner we will have no choice but to ballot our members for industrial action.’
All this had occurred after more than 1,500 students at the University were asked not to leave their flats and self-isolate after a coronavirus outbreak at its accommodation blocks.
The lockdown sparked fury, with many teenagers and young adults, being locked in their halls having just moved there – often their first experience of living away from home.
Students at the Birley and Cambridge Halls went into lockdown following an outbreak of 127 Covid cases. But many only found out about the lockdown when security staff at the gates told them they couldn’t leave, and as many thought the lockdown was optional.
Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students, said many students in lockdowns had been left struggling to access food and wellbeing resources – with universities disputing this, saying they had put measures in place.
- Meanwhile, the University of Exeter has warned that about 40% of cases in the city in the week up to 24 October were attributable to the university. That contrasts with a situation at the start of October when more than 80% of Exeter’s cases were identified as student cases.
University officials then said they would ‘review’ a ban on different student households mixing indoors.
Data from Devon County Council show there were 177 new cases in Exeter up to 24 October. The university said that by working with Public Health England, ‘we know that around 40% of those cases are attributable to the university’. It also said this was a ‘significantly lower proportion than over recent weeks’.
Mike Shore-Nye, registrar and secretary at the University of Exeter, confirmed there had been one new positive case among university staff, although this person ‘had not been to campus for several months’.
He said there also remained ‘very few cases’ linked to the university’s Cornwall campus in Penryn. ‘I said last week that if we saw a continued reduction in case numbers then we would hope to be able to relax our advice on students in Exeter meeting indoors with those who are not part of their household, and we are reviewing this as the week goes on.’
- The University of Bath has reported 86 new and historical coronavirus cases among students and staff in two days. Yet the figures for those two days include a number that have only now been reported to the university.
The figures covering Monday and Tuesday (October 26 and 27) saw 38 new cases on Monday and up to 30 on Tuesday among students, and one case among staff was recorded on Tuesday.
However, a separate number of figures for October 26 has been added to the portal, which the university indicates are made up of historical cases which have only now been reported to Bath and North East Somerset Public Health.
The 30 student cases reported on Monday also include an unknown number of historical cases, according to the university portal.
- In the latest student lockdown in Oxford, University College has told all students at accommodation in North Oxford to stay within their households.
This is the second Oxbridge college to go into lockdown, after Homerton College in Cambridge. Other universities across the country have put thousands of students into isolation after vast outbreaks.
However, Oxford and Cambridge have largely managed to avoid this. Both have wide-ranging testing programmes, screening students on a weekly basis.
There have been at least 91 positive tests reported at Oxford, and now more than 100 students have been told to isolate in their households. Public Health England has been called in to review the situation.
A University College spokesman said: ‘There has been a spike in the number of students at University College who have tested positive for Covid-19.
‘The students involved live in college accommodation on one of the college’s sites.
‘The college is working with Oxford University’s Early Alert Service and the public health authorities to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to limit the spread of the virus.’