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University announces plans for in-person teaching in Michaelmas, UCU not consulted

Oxford University has announced its commitment to resume some face-to-face teaching in Michaelmas term.

In an email to students, the vice-chancellor, Prof Louise Richardson, affirmed the university’s intention to conduct both in-person and remote teaching in Michaelmas 2020. Lectures and other large group teaching will remain online, but it is planned for smaller groups to once again be taught face-to-face with tutors.

Trinity term has been carried out remotely following changes in government guidance as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But the vice-chancellor hailed ‘face-to-face personalised education’ as the hallmark of Oxford in her communications with students.

However, the question remains as to whether it will be possible to resume in-person teaching by Michaelmas term, which begins on 1st October, especially if social distancing measures are still in place.

A significant portion of senior academic staff are over 60, the age group most at risk of severe illness or death should they contract Covid-19, according to Imperial College London and University of Oxford research. So there may be some reluctance among staff to resume interacting with students in person.

The University and College Union (UCU) – responsible for the strike action earlier in the year –raised objections to the plan on Twitter, due to their own concerns about the proposal. In a comment to Cherwell, the UCU committee stated:

“Oxford UCU have not heard anything from the University about the resumption of face-to-face teaching before the announcement last week. Needless to say, it came as quite a shock to us and many of our members. We have significant health and safety concerns which have not been addressed by the University, and we insist that they do so urgently.”

Other universities have announced their own plans for teaching next academic year. Cambridge University made national headlines when it announced its own intention to have lectures online only for the whole of the next academic year. The University of Reading also committed to online lectures for the upcoming term. 

The University of Oxford was contacted for comment.

Image credit to Martin Addison/ Wikimedia Commons.

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