Dawn, a lecturer 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.
Some lecturers who do not wish to return to campuses owing 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. “I have colleagues who are high-risk and are out there teaching [in person] against their better instincts.”
Jemma, an academic at a north-east England university who, like Dawn, has health issues, claimed management refused to listen to 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 staff who claimed their university had not taken a firm decision on their plans for the year until last 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” there would be Covid-19 transmission among students, and that many universities had bolstered their mental health services for students facing added pressures from disruption and uncertainty.
Sam, a lecturer at Durham – where all lectures are online and some face-to-face teaching remains – said a number of students were already reporting mental health issues prior to the pandemic, and he was concerned that 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?”