Union bosses have highlighted serious concerns about St Andrews University’s plans to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The St Andrews branch of the University and College Union (UCU), which represents lecturers and academics, has written to Principal Professor Sally Mapstone detailing its members’ reservations about the decision to bring students back to the Fife town from August 24 and resume teaching from September 1.
Union leaders say it would be “rash” for the university to claim in-person teaching is safe, and have called for no staff or students to be penalised for continuing to work from home.
Students from regions with high infection rates should be encouraged to remain at home or have their arrival staggered, the union says.
It is also also demanding details of the sanctions to be applied to anyone in the university failing to comply with Covid-19 protective measures.
Ishbel Duncan, vice-president of the UCU St Andrews branch, said: “The university’s decisions to bring students back to St Andrews and engage in in-person teaching puts risk at the forefront of many people’s minds and St Andrews UCU seeks to contribute fully to the process of performing our work safely.
“Staff, students and residents are due this consideration.”
She said the university had to fulfil its commitment to equality, diversity, and social responsibility by making the health and welfare of staff, students and the wider St Andrews community priorities in its planning.
The union has highlighted specific concerns about the availability of risk assessments; staff workloads; issues with consent, compliance and liability.
It has also made clear its position that no member of staff should be “coerced” into returning to in-person work.
Miss Duncan said there was concern that the new student cohort will see at least 1,830 students coming from overseas, including the USA, China, India, Russia and Thailand.
“The impact on town and local area of an outbreak originating from any returning students or staff could be devastating for the (older) community and also lead to reputational damage,” she said.
St Andrews University said its educational purpose was to deliver teaching and learning while keeping staff, students, and our local community safe.
A spokesperson said: “That is why we have taken the decision to deliver all lectures to large classes, and some smaller classes, online.
“We also recognise small group teaching in safe spaces is central to the St Andrews experience, and in the interests of social mobility, mental health, protecting jobs, and the local economy.
“We have worked closely with the campus trade unions to develop a risk assessment process to support limited in-person teaching and research,” the spokesperson added.
“Safety informs all we do, and we are rigorously following Scottish Government guidance and expert academic advice to proactively protect the health and wellbeing of staff, students and our wider community.”