Summary of Meeting with UoN – Health & Safety

UCU met with University management to discuss concerns on the 11th Nov 2020

UCU concerns:

Data of asymptomatic testing is not made available, allegedly due to ethical approval issues. The ethical approval should be reviewed so that data can be shared.

Testing on site needs to be more accessible, particularly for BAME staff and students Rise in staff active cases earlier this week.

Suitability of ventilation in smaller rooms, especially with requirement of keeping windows open and weather becoming colder.

Number of students coming forward for test (both asymptomatic and symptomatic dropping), due to fears of being required to self-isolate. There are also serious concerns regarding student compliance with H&S measures, like wearing masks in study spaces and buildings.

Better communication with students is required, stressing the need to test and comply with the rules. Staff don’t feel protected and therefore anxious.

Presentation of data on active cases on UoN website is biased and partial. Whenever Covid numbers are talked about, they are always low or falling sharply. UoN should do a better job in engendering trust and lower anxieties, by letting the data speak for themselves. Negative testing data should be included, comparison with data for the city should be included, data on turn around time of test should be included. Historic data should be available, not only past 10 days.

UoN response:

Asymptomatic testing data is not released because of the ethical approval linked to it, but we will review that. There is nothing to hide –ca. 400 staff have taken the asymptomatic test and the positive rate is under 2%. Student testing has decreased in recent weeks from 20% to 1%. Reporting asymptomatic testing is delicate, because the city is not doing asymptomatic testing.

More testing sites are indeed needed and two more will be announced on Jubilee and Sutton Bonington campuses at the end of this week. We are also talking to Derby hospital for how we can provide one there.

The number of active cases amongst staff has been consistently fluctuating around 20, it peaked at 40 around three weeks ago, right now there are 23 active cases.

Ventilation and adequate heating in buildings is within the remit of the Covid impact board, which meets regularly and is looking at retrofitting appropriate ventilation systems, as current system is not fit for cold weather. So this is in hand.

With regard to enforcement of compliance among students, this is quite effective in halls of residence, but more difficult to do in other university spaces that are not equally monitored.

We are aware that more needs to be done in this context. We agree that better communication with students is needed and we will work towards this, welcoming any input from UCU.

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’

Motion on online teaching as default during pandemic

The following motion was passed at the Wednesday 14th October branch meeting.

Over the past few months, University of Nottingham staff have been consistently reassured by senior management that the question of “face to face” (f2f) teaching would be handled in a flexible and safe manner. However, facts on the ground have contradicted this. ​Many schools across the University report that they are still being forced by senior management to push staff into f2fteaching against their wishes​. The Motion passed by the Sept general meeting sought to address this by recognizing management’s assurance that no member of staff would be “compelled” to teach f2f.It has since become apparent this assurance has not been kept by management, who have refused to clarify what this phrasing actually means. This ambiguity has resulted in individual members of staff having to negotiate their way out of f2f with their line managers. Consequently, many staff continue to feel they are being compelled to deliver f2f teaching.

Nottingham’s student community, at the time of writing, has the ​second highest rates​ of Covid in the country, only behind Manchester. As of Oct. 6​th​, Manchester University, Manchester Metropolitan University, and University of Sheffield have suspended all non-necessary f2f teaching. To carry out discretionary (non-lab/performance based) f2f teaching when community infections rates are so high, and even higher amongst the student population, is to knowingly and willfully expose students and staff to a life-threatening and potentially long-term health hazard. That is unacceptable.

The current situation not only poses a direct threat to staff health but also imposes immense stress on them and their households and families. The requirements to shuffle students between online and f2f as they move in and out of isolation is degrading the capacity to teach effectively across the board, as well as generating huge additional workloads for staff from all job families.

This motion reaffirms the local branch’s support for the national UCU position, and that of Independent SAGE, in line with widely accepted scientific evidence, namely that online working – for both teaching and support activities – should be the default mode of delivery, other than in those cases where this is practically impossible (such as labs, performing arts, etc).

We demand that senior management urgently enter into negotiations with the union on the following points:

  1. Recognize the expertise of staff in digital learning by assuming online teaching as the default method of delivery (with exceptions as above).
  2. Only continue discretionary f2f teaching ​on the basis of staff opt in,​ free from compulsion in any form. This applies equally to fixed term and hourly-paid workers, as it does to permanent staff.
  3. These arrangements should continue until it can be agreed with the local branch that it is safe to resume f2f.