UCU calls for delay to face-to-face teaching in universities

Lecture halls filled with students seen to be becoming a thing of the past as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world. Source: Xbxg32000 (Via WikiMedia Commons)
UCU have called for face-to-face teaching to be suspended until the 2021 at least as fears that Universities will become “the care homes of a Covid second wave”.

By Hallum Cowell | Deputy Editor

The University and Colleges Union (UCU) has issued a statement advising against face-to-face teaching in universities until at least 2021. This counters the policy laid out by many universities, including Cardiff University, that limited face-to-face teaching will resume this term.

Many universities cut short their spring semesters in late February as COVID-19 began to spread. Cardiff University ended in-person teaching at the end of February when the pandemic was starting to affect Western Europe and the UK.

Many students found themselves with fewer, if any, lectures during the spring term due to a UCU strike which occurred in the weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Untold damage to people’s health”

In the statement titled, “Universities must not become the care homes of a Covid second wave” the UCU outlined their fears that the limited reopening of universities throughout the UK would help accelerate a second wave of the pandemic. They said:

“Demanding that over a million young people move around the UK to attend university makes no sense… there is no functioning track and trace system, nor any UK-wide plans to regularly test students or staff.”

UCU pointed to the actions of universities in the United States who have moved their teaching online after blended learning (some in-person, some online) caused an uptick in cases of COVID-19. The union’s statement goes on to cite a SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) report which recommends that:

“To protect the safety of students and staff, and prevent community infections, all university courses should be offered remotely and online, unless they are practice or laboratory based, with termly review points.”

The union is also calling for more COVID-19 testing on campus as well as more regular and efficient cleaning

What are Cardiff University’s plans for September?

Cardiff University have released their plans for the new academic year. The plan is for blended learning to take place where large lectures will not be taking place in person rather small teaching groups will be held, “tutorials or clinical, studio and laboratory sessions where relevant.”

A majority of teaching will remain online, much in the same way lectures and seminars were conducted at the end of the 2019/20 academic year.

First year students will have the option to receive support from senior students within their academic school. There will also be other support services available for all students.

Study spaces, such as libraries, are to be bookable for two hour slots with social distancing enforced. The libraries will also be operating a click and collect service for those wishing to loan and return books.  

Freshers’ Week will be forced to change this year as well, with the usual activities not adhering to Welsh Government guidelines, instead Freshers’ Week will be spread over the first few weeks of term and include “daytime and evening social activities.”

The annual Freshers’ Fair will also be undergoing changes:

“Socially distant opportunities for students to join clubs and societies, either in the Union building or outside elsewhere on the campus. Online opportunities to meet and interact with these activities will also take place at the beginning of term.”

Clubs and societies are being allowed to plan events for the new academic year but only if they are small scale and socially distanced.

How have Cardiff University responded?

Gair Rhydd reached out to Cardiff University after the comments made by the UCU asking if they would impact the plans for students in the Autumn semester. A Cardiff University spokesperson said;

“The health and safety of our students, as well as our staff and wider community, is paramount. We have worked hard to put in place a range of protective measures to ensure our campus is safe for re-opening during these unprecedented times.

“Where social distancing requirements can be met, on-campus learning will consist of face-to-face teaching in smaller groups. These smaller sessions will benefit from additional safety measures, alongside high-quality online teaching, learning activities and resources. Our approach has been coordinated with Public Health Wales. 

“A detailed summary of all the changes we’ve made is available on our safe campus webpages

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