Joint Statement from Coventry University and University of Warwick University and College Union (UCU) Branches on the Community Public Health Impacts of the Reopening of Coventry and Warwick Universities, 10.9.20
The Vice Chancellors of Coventry and Warwick Universities made a statement on 25 August that they believed their campuses would be ‘as “covid-secure” as possible’ and that they had due regard to public health measures. The University and College Union (UCU) trade union branches on both campuses dispute this, backing the national UCU position, and statements in the House of Commons by our local MP, that there should be a presumption that all teaching is online except in very limited circumstances.
This position is based on evidence from government SAGE, Independent SAGE, peer-reviewed evidence in the British Medical Journal, and university experiences overseas, and in a situation where cases of Covid-19 are already rising significantly in Coventry. As the government SAGE report released on Friday indicated, campus outbreaks of Covid-19 are inevitable, and the likely consequences severe – for local communities as well as for the students and staff exposed, and their households. Despite the Universities’ promise of risk mitigation, requiring staff and students to undertake in-person teaching will not be safe, sustainable, or pedagogically sound.
While we have continued to support the risk assessment process at both Universities, having assessed the evidence we believe that the risks are much higher than acknowledged by our university leadership for our university communities and the city of Coventry at large.
The demographics of the Coventry area suggest a greater vulnerability to Covid-19 according government data, with increases in cases already seen in local areas in close proximity to Coventry University.
Despite the joint statement from Vice Chancellors, the two universities are planning inconsistent mitigation measures which further underlines the lack of evidence-based planning and the resulting public health risk. Staff and students at the University of Warwick are required to wear masks in classrooms (with no clarity about how this will be maintained), while staff and students at Coventry University have been told it is optional in teaching spaces. Attendance at in-person classes will be optional for Coventry students, while Warwick students have to provide evidence of special circumstances to be allowed to miss in-person classes. While the University of Warwick has established on-campus testing facilities and Coventry University has not, there are serious questions about this test and trace capacity.
Neither University has the confidence of staff and students to manage the high levels of risk associated with the return to campus. Poor management of planning, communications and expectations of students will impact further on the existing university mental health crisis.
Forcing all but the most vulnerable staff back to campus subjects them and the Coventry community to risks of serious illness and death that are entirely predictable and avoidable. We urge the Vice Chancellors of our universities to reconsider the position and make online teaching the default option, for the sake of our local communities.
UCU Coventry University Committee
UCU University of Warwick Committee