Bristol Uni rejects UCU staff demands to stop ‘unnecessary’ face to face teaching

The Covid-19 survey highlighted that 21% of undergraduates missed in person teaching

Bristol University has rejected demands made by the Bristol UCU to end “unnecessary” face to face teaching as confirmed Covid cases are rising quickly across the university.

The university has insisted that the mitigating measures already in place to make the classrooms “Covid Secure” are enough to safeguard staff. The measures include wearing face masks and visors, sanitisation stations, social distancing and one-way routes.

In a letter in response to the Bristol UCU, the university said: “Our primary objective is to keep our staff and students safe as they undertake their research and learning activities.”

When addressing face to face teaching, they said: “We would stress that in-person education matters, including for the mental health and wellbeing of our students.”

In the university’s four page response, they covered five main demands: the “immediate cessation” of “unnecessary” in person teaching, to allow staff to teach online where they do not feel it is safe in person, to publish risk assessments related to face to face teaching, to make sure staff do not lose teaching hours or pay if they choose to move a lesson online and that the university continues to provide high levels of online support and training for staff.

In response to the demands to stop in person teaching, the university said: “We understand the concerns raised in relation to face to face teaching, but believe that the COVID secure working environment, which is in line the University Risk Assessment, and the distribution of face coverings and visors to all staff and students, mitigate as far as is possible the risks of face to face contact.”

They also mentioned results from the COVID-19 survey, which highlighted that only “21% of undergraduates feel motivated by online learning” and that students “missed in-person interactions and expressed the hope that these could resume next year”.

The university described providing in person teaching as a “duty of care” to students who find it difficult to study at home, and especially “those who are from a widening participation background, students from Black and South Asian families, care experienced students, students who face domestic violence and abuse and students with disabilities.”. These students would benefit most from a more “normal study pattern” and social interaction.

In reference to the Bristol UCU’s demand for freedom of decision when teaching in person, the university highlighted again that the steps taken to make the workplace “Covid secure” should be enough to keep staff safe.

They also said: “In addition to known health issues, we have updated the individual risk assessment form to allow managers to discuss with staff any concerns that relate to their personal circumstances, such as personal anxiety about COVID19 and return to work, concern about commuting to work and concern relating to vulnerable family members.”

Within the letter, the university stress that they have “made a commitment to our student body that we will provide some in person face to face teaching” which cannot be achieved without teaching staff.

The Bristol UCU signed off their initial motion with the threat to engage in legal action if the university fails safeguard their Bristol UCU members. The university said: “We believe that our responses comply with safeguarding staff and students as that is our intention. We would be very happy to meet to discuss any of the above in more detail.”

The Bristol UCU has now scheduled an urgent meeting with university leadership for tomorrow at 4:30.

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