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UCU communication with VC and VP Operations re students’ travel plans over the winter break

We have sent the below urgent email to the Vice Chancellor and Vice-President (Operations) on 14 December following the communication to students yesterday.  The University responded to us today.

 

From: Alex Neill <A.D.Neill@soton.ac.uk>
Sent: 15 December 2021 13:14
To: ucu <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: Urgent: UCU concerns about students’ travel plans

Dear Southampton UCU,

I am writing in reply to your message to the Vice-Chancellor and the Vice-President (Operations) in which you suggest that the University move to online learning for non-practical classes until the end of the Semester.  The University has considered this option in the light of the new variant and student cases numbers, and we have determined that we should continue to follow the latest government guidance, which states that in-person teaching and research should continue ‘as is’.

We continue to monitor very closely our positive cases numbers at the University, taking speedy and proportionate action when we need to do so, working closely with our partner agencies including the local public health teams, the Health Protection Board and the UK Health Security Agency.  As we approach the end of term, we are seeing an increase in COVID cases which may in part be due to the increase in testing which is required before students leave for home this week. We have yet to find any evidence that transmission has taken place in a teaching environment.

With respect to the availability of LFD tests, at Southampton we continue to benefit from our unique saliva testing programme and we continue to encourage all staff and students to take advantage of that; currently 61% of staff are using the programme. In addition to the saliva testing option, LFD tests have been available for collection from the staff club foyer.  The University continues to offer support to any member of staff experiencing work related stress or mental health anxiety.

Best wishes,

Alex

————————————————-

Professor Alex Neill
Vice-President (Education)

 

 

From: ucu
Sent: 14 December 2021 15:19
To: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>; Vice President (Operations) <Vice-PresidentOperations@soton.ac.uk>
Cc: Kieron Broadhead <K.Broadhead@soton.ac.uk>; Cathy Day <Cathy.Day@soton.ac.uk>; Luke Kelly <L.A.Kelly@soton.ac.uk>; Lucy Watson <Lucy.Watson@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: Urgent: UCU concerns about students’ travel plans

Dear Mark and Wendy

We write urgently to express our concern at the latest email from Kieron Broadhead sent to students on 13th December. The email reminds students that they are responsible for their own actions and should consider how they can ‘reduce the risk of self-isolation impacting [their] winter break plans’ by ‘balancing the various factors that are important’ to them when planning to travel. On Wednesday 8th December, VP Operations Wendy Appleby sent an email to all staff stating that teaching plans would remain the same and that teaching staff were exempt from the government’s work from home advice. The message from university management was clear that in person teaching would continue for the rest of this week. This expectation was reiterated in the CHSC on Monday 13th December.

We are now in a position where students must choose between staying on campus and attending in person classes, thereby risking testing positive and being unable to travel over Christmas or missing some of their education. Conversely, staff are expected to be on campus and teach in person regardless of the fact that cases amongst the student population are rising at an alarming rate: 95 new cases today alone. This increased risk of infection, along with the difficulty of getting boosters and the lack of availability of lateral flow tests is adding to stress and anxiety for the whole university community as we run up to the end of the semester.

The only sensible course of action is for all non-practical classes to be moved online for the rest of the semester so that students and staff can stay safe and ensure they can spend some much-needed time with family and friends over the holidays. We note that Kieron Broadhead’s email does not ask students to test before they return home. Surely the importance of testing is something the university should be reinforcing in its messaging consistently.

As this is a rapidly evolving situation, we ask for your prompt response.

Southampton UCU executive committee

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