Motion on Reopening of University Campus in light of COVID-19 Pandemic

Cambridge UCU notes that: 

  • The national union has adopted a position following the guidance produced by the Independent SAGE calling on universities to scale back plans to reopen in full in the autumn. This guidance is based on concerns raised by Independent SAGE that a mass migration of more than a million students in the autumn will see not just elevated risks to university employees and students, but also to local communities.
  • This guidance recommends:

That to protect the safety of students, staff and prevent community infections all university courses should be offered remotely and online, unless they involve practical training or lab work. 

Universities should focus on providing excellent quality remote learning rather than on opening up campuses that are likely to close again. 

For students who are studying from home the government should provide support through local Covid-safe study hubs and grants for technology and Wi-Fi. 

If students have to attend campus a Covid-safe university should be secured through: 

  • Testing on or before arrival on campus followed up by further regular testing of students and staff 
  • Online welcome week and teaching in the first two weeks of term along with restrictions of social activities among students where feasible 
  • Mitigations in classrooms including masks, social distancing of two meters as the norm and regular cleaning 
  • Residential bubbles 
  • A social agreement of Covid-safe behaviours on campus. This should cover students, teachers and all university support staff 
  • Full consultation with University staff, rigorous health and safety procedures and attention to equality and diversity issues 

We believe that these measures are essential in order to deliver the best education to students, while also preventing clusters of infection and transmission to local communities of Covid-19. Without these it is unlikely that universities can realistically deliver on their mission to provide the best student educational experience. 


The branch additionally notes:

  • The UK Government’s official SAGE group has now released similar concerns that the mass migration of students back to their homes at the end of term may lead to a substantial surge in coronavirus cases which will heighten the public health crisis. 
  • Universities have not met the five tests laid out previously by UCU for a safe return to on campus working. 
  • University students represent a significant migration flow into Cambridge and there is a potential for local outbreaks among the student population to have significant impacts on the wider Cambridge community unless adequate safety and mitigation measures are put in place. 
  • A localised outbreak is likely to have serious implications for students, staff, and the wider community. Safety measures put in place by the University and its constituent colleges are a matter of community and public health concern. 
  • The University and its constituent colleges have not adequately engaged the wider community in consultation over how to minimise the potential for community-wide outbreaks or how to respond in a timely manner to university or college based outbreaks to prevent the need for a localised lockdown.
  • The University continues to fail to properly consult with staff and their union representatives on the assessment of risk and mitigation strategies that have a direct impact on the Health and Safety measures that are being adopted across the university. 
  • The safety measures being adopted are piecemeal and differ substantially across departments and colleges, leading to the impression that the kind of coordinated action needed to plan for and respond to an outbreak among university students is absent. 

This branch therefore instructs its executive committee to: 

  • Demand an urgent meeting with the university and the colleges calling on them to 
    • adopt online teaching as a default except where lab-based or other practical work requires face to face teaching; and
    • implement the measures outlined by Independent SAGE before there is any substantial reopening of campus and resumption of any face-to-face teaching.
    • develop plans in collaboration with CUCU and the Cambridge Student Union to facilitate remote learning as an alternative to a full return to Cambridge based on pedagogical and welfare needs of students 
  • Collaborate with the student union on their Safe Cambridge strategy, ensuring that student concerns over welfare and equity are integrated into local plans.
  • Coordinate action with local political representatives – including members of the local council and the local MP – and trade unionists for a community response which urges the University and its constituent colleges to develop plans that will protect the safety of the wider community.
  • Call on our members to proactively move teaching online where possible, particularly in those circumstances where staff have not been consulted on a proper risk assessment or this has not been made available as required.