As students return and activity continues to develop on-site, we want to be clear about what we think about the current situation and what we’d like the University to do.
It’s clear that students are testing positive and the expectation is that the number of students with Covid (either with or without symptoms) will increase. There are currently 47 positive cases of students and two members of staff. People will obviously have concerns around the location of infectious students and whether they have been on-site or not. We think it’s time to prepare for a significant outbreak by facilitating testing of all students.
Experience of staff and students on site
If we are trying to give students a good student experience of tuition in a physical setting, supported by student-facing staff: technical demonstrators, technicians, caretakers, security, catering and library staff, then this has to be something the students will appreciate rather than something they might as well have stayed at home for. There’s a real need to reassess what the students are receiving and how this works in terms of balancing the safety of staff and students with the desire to offer a decent experience for them.
Face-coverings in all settings
Whilst face-coverings are essential in common areas, we think now would be an appropriate time to insist that they should be mandatory (exclusions permitting) in all settings on University sites. Students will accept being asked to wear face coverings in classes if asked to do so and with the exception of some classes, this is a reasonable measure to prevent infection of staff members and students.
Concerns over working on site
Many of our members (and non-members) are understandably worried about being on site. Our advice to everyone is to make sure that you have completed the questionnaire, been honest about your concerns and discussed them properly with your line manager, who should take all your concerns into account. People should only be working on-site where absolutely necessary and if so, only doing tasks on-site where required. If you can work at home then you should do so. If travelling to and from work is a concern then it’s worth exploring all options, including asking for a parking permit, if that would mean not having to rely on public transport.
University Safety and Wellbeing Committee (SAWC)
This body is a joint committee of senior managers, trade union and Students’ Union reps. Given the current circumstances, it should be meeting frequently. In recent months, we have met in a smaller, sub-group, but the return to campus working has led UEB to create campus-level safety groups with a different remit. We have decided not to participate in these groups, since they are practical groups for organising tasks and no significant University-wide decisions will be made or reviewed. We need to have joint meetings where we can oversee and scrutinise what the University is doing in relation to health and safety. We’re demanding that SAWC meets regularly and that the University takes seriously our legal rights to consultation over safety matters.