Over the last two weeks you will have received messages from the Principal about the university’s plans for the next academic semester. In those emails it has been claimed that new government guidance on the return to campus in January “does not affect us”.
This is not true
The government is calling for a “staggered start” to the university term next year. It recommends that the return of students is phased over five weeks from 4th January-8th February. Students on practical courses will return in stages in the weeks to 25th January and can resume face-to-face activities if the university deems it necessary.
But students on other courses are instead advised “to return gradually from 25 January, over a 2-week period”. The government recommends that these students “should not resume face-to-face teaching” before then and instead the “remaining courses should be offered online from the beginning of term” until 8th February.
Compare this to the following statements from the Principal’s email on 10th December:
- “Semester 2 starts on 25 January, which is at the end of the Government’s ‘staggered start’ period for on campus face-to-face teaching – so we can start our in-person educational activities as planned.”
- “all our students are welcome back to our campus as soon as they wish to return”
In other words, the university proposes to have face-to-face activities before 8th February and does not propose to stagger students’ return to campus. Planning in some Schools is continuing based on these assumptions.
The bare minimum
Since the summer, QMUCU has been calling for QMUL to move all teaching online by default unless absolutely essential. Management have repeatedly told you this is not necessary because the university is following government guidelines. But now the government guidelines have changed, the university plans to ignore them. This is unsafe and dishonest.
The experience of other universities shows that face-to-face teaching and other campus-based activities are likely to spread the virus and lead to avoidable lockdowns of student accommodation. Scientists and now the government are concerned about the effect of students leaving and returning to campus over the winter break. Government guidance on its own is not likely to be sufficient, as its record across the pandemic shows. But it is the bare minimum that all staff are entitled to expect.
What you can do
Although the QMUL-wide policy on the return to campus has not changed, for many Schools teaching has moved mostly or entirely online. This has only been possible due to the concerns raised by ordinary staff about face-to-face teaching and the flexibility shown by some line managers despite pressure from senior management.
By continuing to raise your concerns, you can help keep campus safe and move Queen Mary closer to complying with the recommended public health measures. Your health and safety reps have already tabled a paper for the forthcoming Health and Safety Advisory Group calling on the university to implement government guidance as a minimum. You can add your voice to this call by letting your colleagues know about the new government guidance and sharing it with your line manager and local health and safety committees.
For more information, see the 5 steps to take if you are asked to return to campus and get in touch if you need assistance or advice.