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Worried university lecturers demand face-to-face teaching is suspended

Written by on 25/09/2020

Concerned lecturers at the University of Sheffield have demanded all face-to-face teaching is suspended until their health and safety can be guaranteed.

The University of Sheffield branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has issued a request of five demands amid concerns that face-to-face teaching will cause the spread of coronavirus.

In an open letter to the University’s Vice Chancellor Koen Lamberts, the UCU said it was “deeply concerned” and stressed the risk that face-to-face teaching would have on staff, students, and the wider community.

It comes after the University of Sheffield told students to come back to the city, and said in an email: “We expect that you will join us as soon as your individual circumstances permit you to do so”.

The UCU has called for risk assessments, no penalty for staff who decline to teach face-to-face, adequate testing, monitoring of Covid risk, health and wellbeing, and to support students to attend as they need to.

Sheffield UCU, which represents staff at the university, wrote: “The university has not put in place and ensured the delivery of sufficient health and safety practises, and is certainly not ready for the start of the semester… No staff member should put themselves in a dangerous working condition.

“The university’s policies impact students, and staff in all job roles, alike.

“In these challenging times, staff have shown incredible unity, solidarity, and community in supporting our fellow staff members and students.

“As the new academic year begins, however, we do not feel that our institution has shown staff the same level of support.”

A spokesman for the University of Sheffield said “key measures” have been taken to protect the health of those at the university.

He said: “Staff across the University have been working hard to prepare the best teaching and learning resources for our students – both via face-to-face teaching and digital delivery. Students have told us about the benefits of learning together on campus and we have worked hard to provide this safely.

“We do understand that some staff have concerns as we prepare for our Autumn term and we want to reassure both staff and students that we are working very closely with local and national partners to respond to all the latest developments and guidance.

“Key measures to protect the health of our University community include staff and students wearing face coverings in teaching spaces, meeting rooms and around campus unless exempt for a medical reason or disability, hand sanitisers at building entrances, one-way systems with clear signage to maintain social distancing, reducing the number of people on campus at any one time, and regular cleaning of touchpoints, toilets and frequently used areas and extensive risk assessments.

“Delivering an excellent student education while doing all we can to ensure the safety of our students and staff remains our top priority.

“We are thankful to all our students for their efforts so far to follow government guidelines and play their part in keeping our University community safe.”