Public Health in the Community: UCU Branches at Coventry and Warwick Universities Call for All-Online Teaching in Term 1

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

 

Strike FAQ for Warwick students

This is information for all Warwick students who would like to know more about why lecturers, librarians, IT and other professional service staff at Warwick are taking industrial action.

For a PDF version click here.


What is the strike about
What is it we want? What would constitute a win?
Why should students care?
How does industrial action affect you?
How can Warwick students help?


What is the strike about? 

There are two reasons why we are striking:  
  • First, to protect staff pensions, which are under renewed attack after the 2018 dispute.
  • Second, to fight for the rights of casualised, female and BAME staff. Growing numbers of staff are working on short-term or precarious contracts that don’t pay them enough to make ends meet. There is also a persistent gender and racial pay gap. This means that at Warwick, for instance, women earn 74p for every £1 earned by men and BAME staff are paid an average of 25% less than their white colleagues. This action is about stopping the downgrading of pensions, ending casualisation and closing the gender and racial pay gap.

UCU Strikes Summary (PDF slides)

What is it we want? What would constitute a win? 

Our demands are simple:
  • Protect staff pensions so that we can retire without facing poverty;
  • Pay a £10/hour minimum rate for directly employed staff, and commit to the Living Wage Foundation’s pay rates for the lowest paid on campus;
  • Agree to develop a programme to close the gender and BAME pay gap; 
  • Agree to create a framework to eliminate precarious employment and to tackle rising workloads;
  • Ensure that staff pay keeps up with inflation (salaries have fallen 20% on average over the past decade)

These demands are easy to meet. We’re asking UUK (Universities UK, the association of university employers) to work with us to end the rampant levels of inequality in our workplaces and to make sure that people can actually afford to live on the pay for the jobs they do.

Why should students care? 

We know that you have incurred a large debt to attend university. Many of us fought hard against the meteoric rise of tuition fees. But the high fees you pay are not used to pay more to those who teach you. Gaps in gender and BAME pay, casualisation of staff and erosion of staff pensions are part of a decade-long assault on the integrity of universities as public institutions. As a result, we’ve seen the tripling of student fees, a trend toward short-term or sessional contracts at the expense of secure employment, the greater use of outsourcing models  and the ballooning of managerial pay – and with these developments, the persistence of racist and sexist cultures at our university.  

If we want an environment committed to fairness and transparency, where teaching, learning and research – not profit – are at the heart of what we do, then we must collectively take a stand.

How does industrial action affect you? 

Teaching and working with students is why we do this job, so we do not take strike action lightly, any more than nurses or doctors do. After eight days of strikes in November and December 2019, the UCU has called for fourteen more days of strikes in February and March: February 20-21, February 24-26, March 2-5 and March 9-13. On these days:

  • UCU members won’t be teaching, holding office hours, marking or answering emails
  • Any work missed, including teaching, will not be rescheduled
  • Since December 4th, UCU members have been observing action short of a strike (ASOS): this means working to contract, or working only the 36.5 hours per week stipulated in our contracts (most academics work 60+ hours, including weekends)

How can Warwick students help? 

In partnership with Warwick’s Student-Staff Solidarity Network, we will be holding a series of themed events on the picket lines, giving you a chance to join discussions about fees, debt, the future of work and radical alternatives to the status quo. We want you to be part of these activities. Join us! As Emma Goldman almost says, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your demonstration.”

Warwick Students Union voted to support the strikes – as individuals you can too.

If you want to help us stop hugely damaging changes to higher education, here are some ideas:

Remember: the more people support the strike, and the more unified that support, the sooner it’s likely to end.

With that in mind, please:

  • Boycott lectures and seminars on strike days – do not cross the picket line!
  • Join us as sympathetic onlookers/active supporters
  • Help organise alternative student-led events
  • Get in touch with any questions

Solidarity for all – together we can win this!