University union claims campuses may be 'care homes' of second wave

University union comes under fire for claiming campuses ‘may be new care homes’ if coronavirus second wave hits

  • Lecturers’ union accused of spreading panic before students return to university
  • University and College Union claimed ‘face-to-face teaching’ is too dangerous
  • UCU secretary Dr Jo Grady said universities may be ‘care homes’ of second wave 

A Left-wing lecturers’ union has been accused of spreading panic weeks before students head back to universities after lockdown forced their closure.

Dr Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, claimed that the new term could lead to universities becoming ‘the care homes of a second wave’ of coronavirus.

The UCU also claimed that it is ‘too dangerous’ for face-to-face teaching to resume and that further education establishments were ‘sleepwalking into a disaster’.

University and College Union was accused of spreading panic after its secretary Dr Jo Grady (left) claimed universities may become ‘the care homes’ of a second coronavirus wave

Despite young people being at minimal risk of developing serious problems from Covid-19, the union says student arrivals could cause a fresh ‘public health crisis’.

Universities acted with surprise at the UCU’s warnings, saying they had been consulted throughout the extensive process of preparing to reopen. The vast majority have already taken sweeping measures such cancelling freshers’ week events and moving lectures online. 

Most institutions are pursuing ‘blended learning’ programmes, where teaching of large groups takes place online, but smaller-scale seminars, lab work and tutorials are still face-to-face.

But the UCU wants students to avoid campuses until Christmas unless a testing scheme begins operating at universities.

Dr Grady said: ‘Moving a million-plus students around the country is a recipe for disaster and risks leaving ill-prepared universities as the care homes of a second wave.’

She also accused the Government of a lack of planning, with more students expected on campuses after they were granted places following the exam results fiasco.

‘So, the very people who are increasingly getting infected by this virus are being encouraged in mass numbers to move all around the country and congregate and live together,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t make sense.’ 

The UCU claimed it is ‘too dangerous’ for face-to-face teaching to resume and that education establishments were ‘sleepwalking into a disaster’ (file photo, University of Liverpool)

But Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: ‘Every senior university manager I have spoken to over the summer has been working their socks off to make their campuses as safe as possible – while also sorting out the admissions mess that is not of their making.

‘It’s not in anyone’s interests to put staff or students in danger and they will continue to act responsibly.’

And Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, said ‘right now it is as safe as it ever has been’ to go back to campuses.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘The safety and wellbeing of university staff and students is always our priority.

‘We are confident that universities are well prepared for the return of students by taking measures such as introducing social distancing on campus, limiting travel requirement for classes and staggering teaching across extended days to reduce numbers on site.’

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