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UCU attacks Matt Hancock's suggestion that university students could be behind second Covid wave

7 September 2020 | last updated: 17 September 2020

UCU says ministers and universities need to take control of the threats to public health associated with a mass return to university campuses, and not try and preemptively blame students for any second wave

The union was responding to comments from Health Secretary Matt Hancock who told the BBC that he was 'concerned' about students returning to university. Last week UCU said that universities' default position should be online learning to avoid risking a major health crisis. On Friday the government's own scientific advisers SAGE raised concerns about the likelihood of increased cases on campus.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'For ministers and universities to rely on the behaviour of students, rather than deploying the public-health infrastructure needed to control the virus, is a complete shirking of their own responsibility. Students have been told to move, live, study and socialise together. It is totally unacceptable for Matt Hancock to try and suggest that they will be at fault for any second wave.

'What we need now is a serious response from universities and the Westminster government, not pre-emptive strikes in any blame game. Guidance expected later this week from ministers has to finally address these key issues.

'Universities and ministers have spent the summer trying to convince students that the university experience wouldn't be drastically different thanks to online events and blended learning. We are not the only ones who have pointed out the inherent public health risk associated with moving more than a million students around the country. Even the government's own scientific advisers have now recognised the problem.'

In the US, more universities are moving back to online only after seeing increases in Covid cases. There are also examples across the Atlantic of students being blamed for increases in cases and lockdowns.

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