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Union threatens strikes over university’s plans to resume in-person lessons

Manchester Metropolitan University is reintroducing more face-to-face classes after three weeks of online learning.

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Coronavirus – Mon Sep 28, 2020

A university in Manchester has been threatened with union action after it announced plans to reintroduce face-to-face lessons next week.

Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) has said it will provide up to three hours of in-person activity each week for most courses on Monday after the majority of lessons were moved online.

The University and College Union (UCU) has said asking staff to revert back to in-person teaching when the city had moved to tough Tier 3 restrictions to try and control the virus was “unacceptable”.

The union has warned it will ballot members for industrial action if the decision is not reversed.

MMU and the University of Manchester moved most of their teaching online from October 7 following a rise of Covid-19 cases among students.

MMU is now planning to reintroduce an element of in-person teaching after three weeks of virtual classes.

It comes after hundreds of students in MMU’s halls were told to self-isolate in their rooms for 14 days, even if they had no symptoms, following an outbreak of Covid-19 cases at the end of last month.

UCU North West regional official Martyn Moss said: “The people of Manchester are making huge sacrifices to try to contain the spread of the virus.

“Yet Manchester Metropolitan University’s vice-chancellor wants to undermine the city’s sacrifice, and risk the health and safety of staff and students by urging them to return to campus.

“Staff have spent the past three weeks teaching online, and the university needs to give them 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.”

Coronavirus – Mon Sep 28, 2020
Signs on a window at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Birley campus where hundreds of students were told to self-isolate (Peter Byrne/PA)

He added: “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.”

A MMU spokesman said: “Our decision to reintroduce an element of face-to-face teaching is in line with recommendations from the Director of Public Health for Manchester and Public Health England.

“Most of our teaching will remain online, but we will provide up to three hours of in-person activity each week for most courses.

“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.”

He added: “We remain 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 MMU Students’ Union, said: “We really welcome the return to face-to-face teaching. Students have told us that it helps to create a sense of belonging and personal interaction helps students to build stronger relationships with tutors.

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

The University of Manchester is not yet planning to return to in-person teaching for most students, but the policy will be reviewed on November 7.

Other institutions which have decided to teach the majority of classes online include Northumbria, Newcastle, Sheffield and three universities in Liverpool.

Liverpool John Moores University told PA news agency that it is planning to continue only running online lessons for the remainder of the term.

But the majority of universities across the country are offering a blended approach of face-to-face and online lessons amid the pandemic.

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