‘Majority’ of staff expected on campus despite home working call

English universities should not switch to online teaching despite Omicron fears, says government

December 9, 2021
London, United Kingdom - November 13 2020 A student wearing a protective face mask walks past the LSE Old Building, London School of Economics and Political Science.
Source: iStock

English universities should continue to deliver face-to-face teaching despite mounting concern over the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the Department for Education has said.

In line with the rest of the working population, higher education staff should “work from home if possible” from 13 December to slow the spread of the virus, according to new government guidance.

However, the document says that ministers were “prioritising keeping education settings open”.

“We therefore expect education settings to remain open for face-to-face teaching as planned,” the guidance says. “Teaching and learning should not be moved online as a result of the work from home guidance and staff can continue to attend work as necessary to deliver this.”

The document says that ministers “expect the majority of staff would attend settings, to maintain face-to-face education for all students as far as possible”, including lecturers, researchers, technicians and staff delivering “essential student support services”, such as librarians and mental health advisers.

Administrative staff who are not involved in the delivery of face-to-face teaching should work from home where possible, the DfE says.

The guidance adds that face coverings should be worn by students, staff and visitors in corridors and communal spaces on campuses.

“Providers may also want to consider adopting the use of face coverings in workshops, laboratories, offices, libraries, teaching rooms and lecture halls, especially where there is poor ventilation,” the document says.

Many UK universities have been delivering large lectures online during the autumn term due to concerns over Covid-19, but most smaller group teaching has been taking place in person.

On Covid-19 testing, the DfE recommends that students and staff should continue to use lateral flow tests twice weekly at home, and that students should take tests before travelling home for Christmas and then before returning in the new year.

Providers “are strongly encouraged to ask visitors to take a [lateral flow] test before entering the setting”, the document adds.

A Times Higher Education survey published in September found that 53 per cent of respondents did not feel safe returning to face-to-face teaching or on-campus working while coronavirus case numbers remained high. Only 28 per cent of respondents said that they did feel safe, with 19 per cent unsure.


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Reader's comments (4)

Surely an early finish for Christmas would have been the sensible thing to do to slow the spread of Omicron and allow time for more people to get the boosters. But no, best to compel people to come onto campus for face to face teaching to up the number of cases and maximise the transmission when students go home for the holidays. Imbeciles is being too generous.
What about the right of students to be educated, and our professional duty to provide that service? What gives academics the right to insist on a disease-free workplace? We face much greater risks off-campus, and so do most other workers, our own long-suffering students included. I find these attitudes selfish and unprofessional.
Students can still be educated just not in a face to face environment. I don't see how putting the health and safety of both staff and students first is either selfish or unprofessional. I think it is more selfish to do nothing and let this new variant spread like wildfire as it is currently doing. Minimising any risks is the logical thing to do.