‘Nobody’s listening’: UK lecturers say their Covid fears are being ignored | Education

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Dawn, a lecturer with underlying health conditions at a London university, felt immense relief after completing her “Covid-Age: Individual Vulnerability” questionnaire, which assessed her as high-risk , allowing her to work from home.

However, at some universities, including her own, lecturers who do not wish to return to campuses due to coronavirus fears report feeling under pressure to deliver face-to-face teaching. “There have been quite a few emails suggesting we’ve got to go out there and teach and take it on the chin,” Dawn said, of emails seen by the Guardian.

“I have colleagues who are high-risk and are out there teaching [in person] against their better instincts.”

Jemma, another academic with underlying health conditions at a north-east England university, claimed that the management refuses to hear out concerns.

“There is no process for staff with underlying health conditions and much pressure for those shielding to teach face-to-face,” she said. “We were put on timetables without having expressed if we want to work or not.”

She added: “The final risk assessment only started days before teaching began and is still ongoing. It would be better to commit to 100% online so staff can focus on that.”

Dawn and Jemma were among several who claimed that their university had not taken a firm decision on their plans for the year until earlier this month and that some students were still without set timetables as educators scrambled to allocate classes.

Frustration among lecturers towards their universities and the government comes as students express fears over the psychological impact of the coronavirus crisis on campuses and call for money back from their tuition fees.

On Tuesday, the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, told MPs it was “inevitable” that Covid-19 transmissions would occur, and that many universities had bolstered existing mental health services for students facing added pressures from disruption and uncertainty.

However, Sam, a lecturer at Durham – where all lectures are online and some face-to-face teaching remains – said that a number of students were already reporting mental health issues prior to the pandemic and that he was concerned the university may not have the resources to deal with growing demand.

“Pastoral care is a huge issue,” he said. “Government insistence that this is a problem for universities to deal with is ludicrous. What extra resources are we supposed to draw on to perform that role?”

Speaking more generally, and expressing concerns shared by multiple lecturers who responded to a Guardian callout, he added: “The government declined to offer financial aid in the spring, meaning that universities had to pretend everything would be OK by autumn and sell these students a vision of university that we knew we couldn’t guarantee.”

Another Russell Group academic, John, said: “Universities are dragging students back purely for financial reasons – we’ll go bust if we don’t.”

There is severe anxiety among lecturers and tutors who are “genuinely afraid of teaching their classes in person” and feel as if their concerns have fallen by the wayside at some universities, Sam added. “Nobody seems to be listening.”

Meanwhile, some universities are grappling with particularly high numbers of first-year students due to the A-level grading fiasco, leaving academics feeling embattled.

“I have nearly twice as many students as three years ago,” said Carlotta, a lecturer at UCL, of her cohort. “I feel a bit overwhelmed, I have anxiety problems. People assume an online class is worse but this is an unfair assumption. This year has taken a lot more labour to prepare the course.”

However, she added: “My department has been good and is not forcing us to do face-to-face teaching unless we want to come in voluntarily, for small groups only.”

Technological issues have left some staff hamstrung, posing new issues for planning online classes. At Newcastle university, a cyber-attack earlier this month wreaked havoc, while nearby Northumbria university was also attacked – leaving staff without email for two weeks and forced to plan online classes from scratch. Staff at Greenwich university have also reported significant glitches.

Still, remote learning is under way throughout the UK, with lectures streamed live and then available on intranets, some seminars slated to take place in person, and sessions with equipment for those who need it, such as scientists. Some universities, including Aberystwyth, temporarily halted all face-to-face teaching after a rise in the number or coronavirus cases.

At Brunel university on the outskirts of west London, some lecturers enjoy being able to be more flexible, especially for mature students, while experiencing the curious novelties of teaching remotely.

“The university has said do what you think is best for you; tell us what is best and go with it,” Andrew said. “I can choose whatever platform I like, and have some things in person or not, though other organisations have been more prescriptive.”

Of streaming his lectures, he said: “It’s actually very fun – and the students chat on Zoom as if they are live-tweeting a TV show. But some have taken the online element a little too far. I saw one of our students at a shopping centre during the lecture I was giving online.

“The next day one had gone to pick up their children from school but had kept my lecture running in the background. Someone else screenshotted me teaching and made it their background, which was a bit weird.”

Names were changed to protect identities.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘Nobody’s listening’: UK lecturers say their Covid fears are being ignored | Education

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