With over 14,000 staff and over 24,000 students, the University of Oxford is a place of work and study for a quarter of the population of Oxford. Hence, safe on-site working and studying is a public health concern.
Substantial teaching that could otherwise have been done remotely (e.g. the majority of tutorial teaching), is now being undertaken in person during Michaelmas term. We note the strong recommendation of SAGE on 21 September, that ‘all university and college teaching to be online unless absolutely essential’. We maintain that such in person teaching should revert to online as soon as possible, and that teaching plans in Hilary term are revisited so that the unnecessary situation we are currently experiencing is not repeated next term.
The government has suggested that students may be required to quarantine for two weeks before returning home at the end of term. Where students could revert to online teaching, we would support them isolating now, and returning home to continue their studies safely earlier, rather than being locked in on campus all term.
A report presenting our recommendations for remote teaching and measures to help both teaching staff in doing their job from home and those who have to be on-site for practical courses was presented to the Oxford UCU AGM on 16 October 2020. The AGM agreed to adopt the recommendations and resolved to submit the report and recommendations to the Collegiate University.
The report is informed by data from the Oxford UCU return to on-site work and COVID-19 impact survey which ran between 30 June and 18 August 2020, collecting results from 824 respondents. The recommendations are based on discussions with H&S experts and University of Oxford H&S representatives and staff members, and are informed by current scientific advice and understanding of the virus. We also reference UCU, SAGE and independent SAGE recommendations.
Our recommendations are as follows:
In order to ensure the health and safety of students and staff, teaching should, in the first instance, be done remotely. Furthermore, f2f teaching policies should be revisited before Hilary term, incorporating lessons learned from Michaelmas term.
For those students and staff who have to be on-site, regular testing should be ensured, independent of symptoms.
Enhanced cleaning should only be the responsibility of trained staff specifically employed for that role.
Ensure adequate ventilation of indoor spaces, including by regularly testing ventilation rates. Monitor ventilation filters and sewage water to identify groups with infected individuals and prevent an outbreak.
The University and colleges should ensure disposable face coverings are available at all building entrances.
Academic and support staff involved in student welfare should not bear the responsibility for the health and safety of students, financial or otherwise.
The University and colleges needs to ensure that staff has all the equipment needed for working from home.
Line managers and departments need to consult with staff and communicate return to on-site work policies.
Staff needs more support from their line managers and departments to manage remote working.
Equality should be taken into consideration when health and safety measures are implemented during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Staff must be consulted on how they are involved in the responsibility of teaching and training PGRs.