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​​​​​​​Universities' reopening plans are only adding to confusion

20 May 2020

UCU says the government needs to step in and underwrite income lost through fees and teaching grants and, in response, universities must promise to work together on plans for safely reopening and when to recommence face-to-face teaching.

Inconsistent plans from universities to ban face-to-face lectures, try blended learning and even to try and reopen fully in September are only adding to the confusion for students, said UCU.

Responding to the news that the University of Cambridge has said all its lectures next year will be online, while the University of Bolton plans to open in September, the union said it had warned previously that if the government did not provide emergency funding to cover income lost through fees, then it risked prompting unhealthy competition between universities for students.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'We have now seen a few universities set out plans for the next academic year and there is no consistency. This only adds to the confusion for students and for staff, and does not suggest their health and safety is the top priority. Unfortunately, we warned this would happen if the government refused to encourage more effective coordination and provide financial support.

'Universities are worried about loss of income and students being poached by other institutions. The government needs to step in and underwrite income lost through fees and teaching grants and, in response, universities must promise to work together on plans for safely reopening and when to recommence face-to-face teaching.  

'Without decisive action from government, we will see an unseemly scramble for students at a time when universities should be working together to safeguard the sector and continue their work combatting Covid-19 and supporting key workers.  

'Before universities can reopen we need to see much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases, a national plan for social distancing and comprehensive testing. We can't simply promise to go back to business as usual. Any plans must also extend beyond the lecture theatre and explain how universities will deal with things like peak times, narrow corridors and socialising.'

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