Joint Northumbria University and Newcastle University UCU Press Release, 15 October 2020
With a record attendance of close to 300, a branch meeting of Newcastle University UCU (14 October 2020) registered its failure to agree with Newcastle University that the campus was ‘Covid safe and secure,’ as university management insist. This follows on from a similar decision by Northumbria University UCU the previous week, which included a vote of no confidence in their University Executive and Vice Chancellor, and a call for him to resign.
Both universities have registered huge numbers of infections since the return of students to campus, demonstrating that claims of a safe campus are untrue. Both branches deemed the university risk assessments not to be ‘suitable and sufficient’. The Newcastle University UCU branch meeting voted strongly in favour of a ‘failure to agree’, and, if necessary, for industrial action to ensure the safety of its members and students. Members registered serious concerns about vulnerable colleagues and the coercion of staff back to campus.
These decisions come after the revelation earlier this week that the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, on 21 September 2020, had advised ‘[a]ll university and college teaching to be online unless face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential.’ Such measures, SAGE estimated, would make a significant difference to the r number. The government’s decision to press ahead regardless has resulted in infection rate spikes across the country in university towns and cities.
The move to Department for Education Tier 3 status on the part of both Newcastle University and Northumbria University, which means most teaching will move online, is a recognition of the very serious situation and the dangerous number of infections reported last week. This change may result in a short-term dip in infections on campus, but this would show that reducing face-to-face teaching reduces transmission.
As things stand, because face-to-face teaching at both universities can resume at the end of October, this hiatus simply postpones the threat to staff and student safety. With high and rising infection rates, inadequate testing and tracing, and lack of guarantees for vulnerable staff, both branches are determined to protect staff, students, and our wider community, by challenging the complacent idea that these campuses are Covid safe.