Union raises fears over return of students to University of East London

The University of East London campus in the Royal Docks. Picture: Google Maps

The University of East London campus in the Royal Docks. Picture: Google Maps - Credit: Archant

A union rep has suggested the return of students to the University of East London’s campuses could drive a surge in coronavirus cases.

Professor Amanda J. Broderick, Vice-Chancellor & President - UEL

Professor Amanda J. Broderick, Vice-Chancellor & President - UEL - Credit: UEL

Members of the University and College Union at UEL, which has bases in the Royal Docks and Stratford, want courses taught online for the first term while bosses insist on 50 per cent being delivered in person.

Social distancing measures introduced at the university have also provoked concerns among members.

UCU rep Aura Lounasmaa said: “UEL is a major player in Newham. In the last wave, Newham was badly hit. I would like to see the university take a leading role in looking after the public health of the community so that our student population does not create a further risk.”

Professor Amanda Broderick, UEL’s vice-chancellor and president, said: “We understand some people may be worried about returning to campus after working for the last six months from home.

“Health and safety, including our community’s mental health and wellbeing, remains our number one priority.

“We are addressing any concerns on a one-to-one basis to ensure all staff and students feel safe and secure, whatever their personal circumstances.”

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But Ms Lounasmaa called for the number of students invited back on campus to be reduced, saying the university’s buildings weren’t designed to accommodate social distancing and that a lack of Covid-19 testing on campus would put pressure on the borough’s public health services.

She added some staff had been asked to do risk assessments when they aren’t qualified to do so.

However, a UEL spokesman said a full suite of measures to protect the community have been introduced, adding UEL was the first university to pilot the NHS test and trace app which complements its own local contact tracing systems.

Other measures include joint outbreak control plans with Newham Public Health, temperature checks, face masks, Covid-secure buildings and protocols for staff and student behaviour. UEL is also working on plans to establish an on-campus test centre, the spokesman said.

READ MORE: University of East London warns of job lossesUEL is expected to announce up to 100 job cuts soon, an impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Lounasmaa said: “Staff feel they are putting their jobs at further risk if they disclose their concerns about coming to campus.”

However, UEL’s spokesperson said: “At every stage we have consulted with the university community as well as all local and national public health experts.

“We are confident we have set in place a robust response to the threat of Covid-19 that is sufficiently flexible to respond to an ever-changing national picture.”