UCU calls on the University of Nottingham to change course on Covid and move all non-essential activity online.

The University of Nottingham ploughs on with in-person activities despite national lockdown

Thursday, 05 November 2020

The University of Nottingham has confirmed that it intends to continue with its current teaching, research and working patterns, without making any changes even in the wake of the Government’s announcement of new lockdown measures, which will enter into force on 5 November. The local UCU branch, in line with national UCU policy, is calling on the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Shearer West, to exercise her autonomy as Vice Chancellor to move all non-essential in-person activity online.

Government guidance states that ‘to Universities and adult education settings should consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible’ while the guidance for Higher Education states that ‘Providers are autonomous institutions. They will make informed decisions (in consultation with their local public health team) on the right blend of face-to-face and online teaching that is suitable for each course, based on the latest public health guidance, taking account of the need to minimise risk to staff and students.’

UCU calls on UoN to rethink its plans in order to protect staff, students and the wider Nottingham community.

Both SAGE and Independent SAGE agree that ‘reducing in-person interaction is a key mitigation against Covid-19 transmission’ in the context of Higher Education. As UCU General Secretary Dr Jo Grady said: ‘Universities must not risk the health and safety of staff and students by allowing non-essential in-person activities to continue. Reducing the amount of in-person teaching and travel to and from campus will minimise the spread of Covid-19 and keep people as safe as possible’. As an institution dedicated to scientific inquiry and to instilling civic responsibility, the University’s current path goes against both of these values.

The University has stated that ‘The number of active cases of Covid-19 among our community continues to decline with currently 97 cases among students and 20 cases among staff’. This data however does not provide full transparency – for example, negative testing numbers are not presented, nor is data on infections in the city we are a part of. Importantly, it does not show whether students are now choosing to not get tested in order to avoid further time in isolation for themselves and their housemates. However, Vice-Chancellor West is right when she says students should not be blamed for this situation – the blame lies with the government, and with her own executive for creating this entirely predictable crisis.

The infection rate (R) in Nottingham continues to be very high, as it has been since the start of term. The Nottingham Hospitals have announced that they are fast reaching full capacity, and death rates have gone up. While the number of infected students on campus has gone down, a large percentage of the student body lives in the community, as does staff. The infection rates in communities outside campus remain very high. Asking students and staff to travel to campus, often using public transport, and have social interactions on campus, at this height of infection makes no medical or moral sense.

We call on the University of Nottingham to reconsider its decision urgently.

Agnes Flues, UCU Branch Vice-President said:

‘We are calling on the University of Nottingham to reconsider its decision urgently, in order to protect students, staff and the wider Nottingham community. Vice-Chancellor, Professor Shearer West should move all non-essential teaching and other activity online’