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.

Covid Impacts on UoN Student Community

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

This branch notes the high number of UoN students currently required to isolate due to Covid infections or exposure. It also notes the unacceptable consequences this is having for our student community, as reported here and here, as well as the huge reputational damage this is doing to the HE sector.

In the immediate term, it is apparent that students have in many cases been poorly treated by a management that seems to have devoted its efforts to getting things back to normal, and has subsequently been wrong-footed by the reality that things are not. Students have variously been left without support, virtually imprisoned, on the receiving end of communications completely lacking in compassion or understanding, blamed for simply pursuing the “student experience” they were repeatedly promised and, alongside frontline staff, been left scrambling for relevant information.

Beyond these most pressing issues, it is now apparent that a sustainable solution to the situation we find ourselves in must include students being given the opportunity to leave their accommodation and continue this semester from their homes, should they choose to. We as a university community cannot continue to act like these problems will just go away.

In passing this motion we declare our support for the students of UoN. We echo the Student Union’s key demands in their letter to the UEB, that students:

  • Be empowered to make their own choices; to remain on an online only course, to defer to a future year, or to leave their course entirely
  • Suffer no financial detriment, including in relation to private accommodation
  • Be treated fairly and proportionately as members of a civil society

Additionally, we call on the university to ensure the following:

  • That the immediate crisis referred to above is addressed urgently, not only in terms of the logistics of supporting and managing students having to isolate, but also the human side of the challenge – in terms of communications which are compassionate and prompt, and do not rely on personal tutors working all hours as welfare officers.
  • That management reconsider their approach to preparing for Covid crises, which to date has been marked by considerable attention to technical matters, and an almost complete absence of such attention to human questions. The scramble to deal with isolating students need never have happened – it was entirely predictable. We should expect further challenges ahead. We call for management to build on its existing working arrangements with the local branch, and go even further, by consulting the whole university community in order to draw on the depth and diversity of its expertise.
  • That management take account of the huge workload demand on staff which is being generated by having large numbers of students switching in and out of isolation, and so switching between online and face-to-face teaching, and urgently put forward a plan for dealing with this which is sustainable.
  • Finally, we demand that the university work alongside its fellow institutions and use UUK to push aggressively for the Government to step in and address the funding crisis underpinning these problems. We note that UUK has been almost entirely absent from the debate, as all sides – including government! – have lined up to criticise the sector in recent weeks. UUK must be willing to represent the whole sector in times such as these, and not just be a vehicle for attacking staff during industrial disputes.