Covid-19: A message to students

Dear Queen Mary Students

Many of you will be very concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak. You will be worried about your own health and that of your families and friends. You will be worried about the potential impact on your education. You will have been horrified by reports of race-related violence.

The academics and professional services staff who are members of the Queen Mary branch of the University and College Union (QMUCU) share your concerns. 

Decisive Action Required for Student and Staff Safety

QMUCU members are acutely aware of the anxiety you are feeling. Like you, many of us are worried about risks to older family members (the most vulnerable to Covid-19) and are very conscious that they might unknowingly transmit the virus to their colleagues and students, who could then pass it on to high-risk friends and family. Queen Mary staff are just as international as Queen Mary students and also worry about when we will next see our parents and siblings. 

Like you, we also believe that university management has not been as caring and supportive as it should be.

We are demanding the following:

  • Cancellation of all face-to-face teaching immediately. This will help lower the risk of infection at Queen Mary, a very densely populated campus, and lower the risk of transmission for students who must commute.
  • Cancellation of all teaching for one week. This will give staff the time to adapt some of the remaining content for alternative delivery and begin the time-consuming process of creating alternatives to the examination.
  • Include staff unions in decision-making. Queen Mary senior management has excluded staff unions from their Coronavirus Response Group (CRG). Your lecturers, tutors and the admin staff who support you and them have important insight on student wellbeing and education that needs to be actively incorporated in decision-making. 

The LSE, Durham, Lancaster and Leeds have cancelled face-to-face teaching from Monday. Edinburgh and Hertfordshire have paused teaching to give students time to return home and staff time to prepare for alternative delivery and assessment. Queen Mary students and staff deserve the same sensible responses. Your student union’s demands are similar.

You can put pressure on the Principal (principal@qmul.ac.uk) and Chair of Council (tim.clement-jones@dlapiper.com) to change their decisions.

Our members are deeply committed to the idea of the university and your education. Many of our members will be communicating with you over the coming days, despite not being paid to do so, to reassure you that they will do their best to support your education in the last weeks of term and in the leadup to your end of term assessments. 

When work resumes on Friday, 20 March, be assured they will work their best within the constraints to provide you with the educational support you need.

We hope that you will also recognise that staff are working under difficult circumstances and, just because we are older and expert in our fields, it does not make us immune from the same physical and mental strains as you. 

COVID-19 and the strike

Queen Mary management in its communication with students has ignored the strike. The COVID-19 outbreak does not change the reasons for our strike. In fact, it highlights just how critical are the issues.

Already overworked staff are expected to create more time to learn new technologies, rethink content and delivery, design new assessments. Management has not recognised this in its Covid-19 related decisions.

Precariously employed staff are expected to go above and beyond, without any security that their employment will continue. Management has not recognised this in its Covid-19 related decisions.

The employers delayed restarting negotiations until the strike started in late February. If they had not deliberately delayed, the dispute might be resolved by now.

Management’s decisions around Covid-19 demonstrate that they have learned nothing from the industrial action and rather than being more understanding of the working conditions of staff, they have made them worse. 

Do not forget non-academic staff

Professional services staff, who look after administration welfare and other functions, often have to commute further, more often and work in large shared offices. The risks to themselves and to their families should not be forgotten.

While academics and students may be able to work from home, many essential staff cannot. Cleaners, maintenance workers, security, library staff and countless others need to work on campus. But facilities are not in place. Hand sanitisers are reported empty, warm water for hand cleaning is not available, bathrooms still have cloth towels.

By not cancelling classes immediately, these workers are all at added risk of infection.

Senior Management’s poor decisions

Management’s decision not to cancel face-to-face teaching immediately risks staff and student health.

Management’s decision to not to give staff a week freed from teaching commitments exacerbates workload issues and lowers the quality of your education and the reliability of assessments in subsequent weeks.

Despite these management failures, QMUCU members will work with students from Friday 20 to support your education.

Until then:

  • Take care of your health by social distancing and observing the hygiene recommendations (regular hand washing, avoiding touching your face).
  • Reassure yourself and your friends that young people without underlying health concerns are at low risk from Covid-19.
  • Take time to work on your studies by reading, reviewing your seminar exercises and lecture preparation, etc. Just because we are more isolated from friends and family, it doesn’t mean we should be isolated from studying.
  • Support our industrial action by completing our petition. Staff working conditions are student learning conditions. Addressing these issues will make it easier for staff to help you.
  • Write directly to the Principal and Chair of Council (principal@qmul.ac.uk, tim.clement-jones@dlapiper.com) and tell them you are not happy with the university response.

 

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