Merseyside institution among several criticised by University and College Union
Liverpool Hope University is to temporarily reduce the number of face-to-face teaching sessions on campus in order “to improve Covid-19 safety, and to reassure the city’s residents”.
It comes after the University and College Union urged the three universities in the Merseyside city to end face-to-face teaching after 87 students and staff at the University of Liverpool tested positive for coronavirus last week.
“Liverpool’s universities have to immediately heed the call from staff and halt unnecessary in-person teaching,” said UCU regional official Martyn Moss on 22 September. “The safety of staff, students and the local community has to be the number one priority.”
On 23 September, Liverpool Hope confirmed it would “move all teaching online for the initial induction week” and that undergraduates who don’t require the use of specialist teaching spaces, such as workshops, laboratories and studios, “will also see seminars and tutorials moved online, in line with their lectures” for at least the next four weeks.
“Hope is keen to stress that these are temporary measures which will be reviewed at the beginning of November,” a statement from the institution said.
Penny Haughan, Liverpool Hope’s pro-vice-chancellor for Student Life and Learning, said the university “must also listen to the concerns of residents in the city and take heed of the Covid-19 infection rates at a local level”.
“We will, however, resume widespread face-to-face teaching as soon as it’s prudent to do so, as we recognise just how important this is for the student academic experience,” Haughan added.
A letter detailing the new advice has been sent to students.
Speaking to Research Professional News on 22 September, Louise Kenny, executive pro-vice-chancellor for the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool, said the institution’s on-campus testing facility, which all students and staff with symptoms can access free of charge, meant it was able to report numbers of positive tests and “act quickly to stop the spread”.
“Face-to-face teaching is an essential component of many of our courses to ensure our graduates have the skills they need for future roles in healthcare, engineering and many other sectors and industries,” Kenny added—saying that measures such as the phased arrival of students back onto campus, a teaching schedule that reduces in-person teaching time, and enhanced cleaning regimes had been put in place.
Playbook also approached the city’s third university, Liverpool John Moores, for comment.
On 16 September, the University and College Union said it planned to “name and shame” universities that, based on reports by its members, it felt were falling short in mitigating the effects of the pandemic.
In addition to Liverpool, the UCU has also raised concerns about institutions in Manchester and the North East of England.
The union is calling on Manchester Metropolitan University to “share full details of Covid cases at the institution with staff” rather than just “anonymised cases on a weekly basis”, and said it has “serious concerns” that the two universities in Newcastle—Northumbria University and the Newcastle University—are not following guidance on reporting Covid-19 cases. Both universities insist their actions have been guided by government guidance.
“We take our responsibility for the health, safety and wellbeing of our students, our colleagues and local communities extremely seriously and will continuously re-assess our position to consider the changing regional and national picture,” a spokesman for the Newcastle University told Research Professional News.
A spokesperson for Northumbria University said it was “confident that the measures we have put in place are robust, create a safe environment and that we are well placed to respond quickly and effectively to public health issues whenever we need to”.
“Naturally we fully understand the concerns of colleagues at this present time and we will adapt our learning model to place more emphasis on online learning when guidance deems this necessary,” they added.
Research Professional News has approached Manchester Metropolitan University for comment.