Unions issue warning around return to universities

30 August 2020, 07:51

File photo: People sit on the grass outside the main entrance to Kings College, part of Cambridge University
File photo: People sit on the grass outside the main entrance to Kings College, part of Cambridge University. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Universities could become ground zero for a second wave of Covid-19 unless they avoid face-to-face teaching, academics have warned.

The movement of an expected one million students around Britain as they return to universities in the next month has led the University and College Union (UCU) to warn the Government is "encouraging a public health crisis".

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the mass movement "could lead to universities being the care homes of any second wave of Covid".

She also accused the Government of a lack of planning, with more students expected on campuses following the admissions fiasco as data emerges that infection rates are increasing among younger people.

"So the very people who are increasingly getting infected by this virus are being encouraged in mass numbers to move all around the country and congregate and live together," Ms Grady said.

"It doesn't make sense."

The UCU wants students to avoid campuses until Christmas unless a testing scheme begins operating at universities.

It comes after a group of scientists recommended universities test all students and staff for coronavirus as they arrive on campus and avoid face-to-face teaching.

Independent Sage reported on August 21 that all courses should be offered online - apart from those which are lab or practice-based - as in-person teaching carries a higher risk of virus transmission.

The group also recommended socialising among students should be restricted to "residential bubbles" in the first few weeks to prevent infection.

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