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Gavin Williamson 'clearly wrong' to say universities are well prepared for Covid crisis

29 September 2020 | last updated: 1 October 2020

UCU said the crisis unfolding on campuses made it clear that universities were not well prepared and his words were an insult to staff, students and their parents. The union said, after disappearing for days while the crisis unfolded, he had to personally take charge and prioritise the health and safety of students, staff and local communities.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'What staff, students and university communities wanted to hear today was clear instruction that would keep them safe and protect jobs and students' education. It was clearly wrong for the minister to say universities were well prepared for the crisis and it was an insult to staff, students and their parents.

'The absence of ministers in recent days to offer any support to staff and students has been unacceptable and a shirking of their most basic responsibilities. We are disappointed that instead of taking responsibility, the education secretary today followed his A-level playbook and sought to associate others with his failings. He is the minister in charge of education and needs to start taking responsibility.

'The education secretary needs to tell universities to halt in-person teaching, stop more students moving onto campus and issue clear guidance to move as much work as possible online, in line with other workplaces.'He also needs to guarantee funding for universities to safeguard institutions' finances and protect jobs. The government should have made that unambiguous financial commitment at the start of the pandemic to allow universities to work together.

'Instead of forcing universities to compete for students and talk up a student experience that was never likely to be delivered, the government should have provided the financial security to allow institutions to properly prepare for this academic year.

'If universities had been able to spend the summer studying the science and working collaboratively on a consensus about how and when to restart, they could have been much better prepared for this inevitable crisis. The education secretary saying he thinks they are well prepared sadly does not make it true.'

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