University default to online learning for rest of autumn term

Joe Molander on the joint statement from the University and Newcastle branch of the UCU

Joe Molander
23rd October 2020
Newcastle University has agreed to keep present in-person (PiP) teaching to a minimum for the autumn term, in a statement released yesterday. The announcement follows the threat of potential strike action from the Newcastle University branch of the University and College Union (UCU).

In a joint statement, Newcastle and the UCU branch explain that PiP will only be provided on a limited number of courses until at least the end of the calendar year. These are courses where specialist facilities or equipment are required, or where PiP is essential to meet learning outcomes or satisfy “subject-specific accrediting bodies”.

The announcement is part of the University’s adherence to Tier 3 of the education guidelines, which uses separate tiers to the three tier lockdown system. Were the University to move to Tier 2, its joint statement with the University UCU branch explains that PiP activities would still be minimal.

Though the “PiP activities considered to be most beneficial to students” would be held at Tier 2, members of staff would not be obliged to attend them. The statement explains that these activities would aid in “supporting [students’] transition, developing a learning community, engendering engagement with their programme of study and/or helping support their mental health and wellbeing”.

The Courier understands that, amongst other things, this could encompass additional lab sessions, peer support and mentoring sessions and group discussions.

Speaking to The Courier, a University spokesperson explained "It is our hope that we will be able to offer more present-in-person activities before the end of the calendar year; this agreement will allow for that to happen."

Currently, the Architecture and a number of Arts and Cultures courses – such as Fine Art, Film Practices and Music – have access to specialist equipment and/or facilities. The University have also listed nine courses where PiP is being provided, including Speech and Language Therapy, Pharmacy and Medicine and Surgery.

The University explain that this list may change after 30 October, and is subject to regular review.

On 21 October, the Newcastle University branch of the UCU tweeted that the University “had moved to online teaching”, after declaring a formal failure to agree with the University last Wednesday. Citing a failure to default to online learning and issues with risk assessments, amongst other things, the union had said it required resolution from the University.

If the resolution was not received by Monday 19 October, the UCU branch pledged to begin balloting for industrial action “immediately and without delay”. Reporting by The Chronicle suggests that concerns over risk assessments remain, in spite of the resolution that has been achieved.

David Stewart, head of the Newcastle University UCU branch, maintained that the branch was “delighted that we can now focus on delivering the best and safest possible education for our students”.

The UCU branch had previously lambasted the University, accusing them of lacking leadership and responsibility. The University responded by claiming to have “no evidence to date that there is any transmission in ‘on campus’ work environments”, and calling for unity.

Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons

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AUTHOR: Joe Molander
Head of Current Affairs and co-founder of The Toon Lampoon. Politics, interviews, satire and the Courier's leading authority on frosted tips. @JoeMolander on Twitter and full portfolio available on Muckrack.

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