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March 31st, 2021:

Comms with senior management about returning to campus on 12 April

Further to our email (see below) to the Vice Chancellor on 31 March raising our concerns about returning to campus on 12 April, we received the following response from Roberta Head, HR Director Client Services on 1 April.

To: Southampton UCU Executive Committee,
Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for your note dated 31st March to the Vice-Chancellor relating to the arrangements for return to campus on 12th April. He has asked me to respond as many of these items were dealt with in our joint meeting earlier in the week and we want to ensure that our response is fully informed by our previous discussions with you.

We have been very happy to have ongoing detailed and frequent dialogue with our UCU colleagues on the return to campuses, including at weekly meetings with our Health, Safety and Risk team. We have discussed this at the regular meetings with our Trades Unions led by Richard Middleton including the most recent meeting on Tuesday 30th March . At all of these meetings colleagues have been able to discuss the plans for a safe return to campus and raise issues and concerns for response. This positive engagement has helped us to plan and we believe has provided an opportunity for meaningful consultation.

In addition, we have been clear about our plans for return to teaching on 12th April, and the need to revisit risk assessments, for some weeks. Colleagues have been engaged in planning for the return of students and have been making amendments to risk assessments since the Government announcement. We would always have planned to have students on practical programmes on site on the 12th April, since this became possible after the 8th March. The generic risk assessment for learning and teaching will revert to that which staff engaged with in the autumn term, with the additional enhancements added relating to face coverings which has been shared directly with all students who are returning to campus. We believe that this means that we have planned well in advance.
Whilst we note members’ concerns relating to the percentage of 16-24-year-olds who will have received a vaccine, we remain confident that the risk mitigation measures that we have agreed will keep students and colleagues safe. We continue to offer access to a testing regime, enforce social distancing and have guidance in place on the wearing of face coverings and hygiene. As always our approach will be monitored and reviewed in light of any new information and Government guidance.

I hope that you would agree that we have been clear that any return for students on 12th April will be in line with Government guidance. We have planned on the best-case scenario but it is possible that we will, in fact, not be able to bring students back at the level of the autumn term. Should this be the case a number of the points your raise become less relevant.
With best wishes,
Roberta

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We have today (31 March ) written to the Vice-Chancellor and senior management over continued concerns about returning to campus on 12 April.

Dear Vice-Chancellor

We write regarding the latest University communications about the return to campus teaching and working. 

Whilst we recognise the importance of a return to normality on campus—from both a financial and a student wellbeing perspective—we must insist that this be handled with care, so that staff safety and wellbeing do not fall by the wayside. 

We note that in the SUSSED blogpost dated 29th March the University accepts there is still a lack of clarity over what the recommended procedures will be for 12th April . This lack of clarity creates a number of serious problems.  

1.      It is not possible for colleagues to engage meaningfully with risk assessments before going on leave, as the only generic teaching and learning risk assessment currently available on the HS&R Sharepoint is the one that applies before Easter. Trades unions on campus have been asking for colleagues to be provided with the post-Easter information for a number of weeks. As we are entering a period of closure days, common annual leave and school holidays this timescale also precludes a meaningful process of statutory consultation with trade union H&S reps before the likely resumption of further in-person teaching. 

2.      Also relating to the upcoming Easter break, there will not be time for many staff to read and meaningfully engage with whichever risk assessment regime will be in place come 12th April – a process that will be vital to ensure assessments are adequately localised. Alternatively, it will require staff to undertake this important work outside of work hours. Both of these outcomes are detrimental to staff safety and wellbeing. 

3.      The University communications lean heavily on both forthcoming Government advice and the relative success of the UK vaccination programme. We note UK official guidance has to date been riddled with miscalculations and poor advice that have resulted in measurably worse outcomes in terms of health and safety. Further, any impact of national vaccination rates on COVID transmission on campus may be limited; the ONS estimates that only 15% of 16-24 year-olds have received even the first vaccine dose. Students thus constitute a largely-unvaccinated but proximate population ready to encounter the more transmissible and more dangerous B1.1.17 variant. We do not see adequate consideration of this fact. 

 SUCU has previously asked senior management to consider a short delay to return to teaching plans, until 19th April. This has been refused but management could still give clarity and reassurance to staff about post-Easter arrangements by proposing that the first week post-Easter continues on the pre-Easter model, so that staff (and H&S reps) have time to consider and plan for whatever return to blended learning was then proposed the week after. This would not only support staff safety and wellbeing over the break, but help ensure that the return to campus is considered and durable—something that we all have an interest in.  

 We hope you will give this matter your urgent attention and look forward to receiving a prompt response.

Southampton UCU Executive Committee