Three quarters of Northumbria academics say they don’t feel safe on campus

The uni’s branch of the UCU says staff want to see measures like mandatory face coverings brought back.

Academic colleagues at Northumbria University are worried about teaching without strict coronavirus restrictions when term starts this week.

Covid safety and protection are still at the top of many universities’ priorities, however, Northumbria University recently took the decision to relax the Covid-19 restrictions currently in place on their campus, which has reportedly led to many members of staff feeling unsafe on site.

Northumbria University’s University and College Union branch has been expressing the concerns of the members of staff on their Twitter account.

One member of staff, part of the 75 per cent of Northumbria staff members admitted to feeling unsafe in a survey of nearly 500 people, expressed her concern to the Union about the campus becoming a virus hotspot, despite CEO Andrew Wathey claiming that cases of Covid at Northumbria are falling.

“The more I think about a potential return to campus, the more it seems like a potential virus transmission hotspot…it feels like being thrown out onto a motorway with a blindfold on,” she said.

The union went on to state that the employer is in denial, sharing an article from the Chronicle which shared that 304 undergraduates, 45 graduate students, and 15 employees tested positive for Cvid-19 in Newcastle in the week of August 30th 2021.

Last year, the university made headlines as one of the first UK universities to see a surge in cases during Freshers’ Week. This was soon followed by a successful staff ballot in favour of industrial action in response to feeling unsafe on campus. Since then, the situation stabilised, and the university announced it would opt for a blended learning approach on campus this year.

This time round, the university has said it’s yet to receive any formal dispute from the university following it’s post on Twitter.

According to the survey, 85 per cent of Northumbria colleagues say they would feel safer if Covid safety measures such as mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing, increased ventilation and C02 monitors were reintroduced. six per cent said even if the measures were re-established, this would still not make them feel safe enough.

The Twitter account asked “Will @NorthumbriaUni listen?”

A spokesperson for Northumbria University said: “The University continues to hold regular discussions with our recognised trade unions in order to resolve issues of concern.

“Our clear aim is to deliver the highest possible learning experience for our students, providing face-to-face teaching on campus within a supportive community. We are taking reasonable measures to ensure this is carried out safely for the wellbeing of both our staff and students.”

The university also gave a full defence of their measures which they say, “either follow or exceed Government guidance.” These include enhanced cleaning methods, ventilation and air quality monitoring, hand sanitiser stations, and providing free lateral flow testing stations.

While face coverings are not mandatory, the university is making an effort to strongly encourage their use alongside social distancing: “We strongly encourage staff, students and visitors to wear face coverings inside buildings, when moving around and when in close proximity to each other. We expect everyone to be respectful of others’ views and to wear a face covering if asked to do so. In some circumstances face coverings will be required, for example where it is not possible to maintain appropriate distance.”

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