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Strikes discussed at Manchester Met over in-person teaching

Union declares dispute with Manchester Metropolitan University over face-to-face teaching

Staff at Manchester Metropolitan University could be asked to strike after university leaders told lecturers to prepare for in-person teaching, despite the city entering the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions.

On 29 October the University and College Union said it was in an official dispute with the university, and that it would “have no choice but to ballot members for industrial action” if MMU did not cancel its request for teaching staff to deliver in-person lessons.

The UCU said the university had asked staff to prepare for a return to face-to-face teaching from 3 November so students could have up to three hours of in-person teaching each week.

A spokesperson for the university said the decision to reintroduce some face-to-face teaching was in line with public health advice, and while students will receive three hours per week of in-person teaching most would remain online.

“Above all, this reflects the wishes and needs of many of our students, who tell us and the Students’ Union, that they greatly value in-person activity. This supports their mental health and wellbeing and helps them to build a sense of community with other students and the university,” they said.

The spokesperson added the safety and wellbeing of staff was “our top priority” and the university was “firmly committed to working in a constructive way with UCU and are in constant dialogue with our students, staff and all three trade unions which represent them, as well as the Students’ Union”.

Evelyn Sweeney, president of the student union at Manchester Metropolitan University, said students “really welcome the return to face-to-face teaching” as it “helps to create a sense of belonging” at university.

“Seeing classmates creates a sense of community and does a great deal to alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness,” Sweeney said.

On 7 October, in response to the increasing number of Covid-19 cases in Manchester, MMU moved most teaching online until the end of the month. Since then the city has entered Tier 3, the highest level of coronavirus restrictions, which still allows students to travel to campus for classes.

Although face-to-face teaching is allowed under Tier 3 restrictions, the UCU said it was “reckless” to return to in-person classes and it had tried to “discuss the dangers” with management through the external Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

UCU regional official Martyn Moss said the university should give staff “the resources to continue to provide students the best possible remote learning experience under these difficult conditions, instead of rushing to return to in-person teaching”.

“If the vice-chancellor continues to risk the health of staff, students and the local community in this cavalier manner we will have no choice but to ballot our members for industrial action,” he said.