In an email sent by UWE’s Vice-Chancellor Steve West late this evening, it has been revealed that all teaching will be suspended for one day (Tuesday 17 March) following updated government advice to avoid social interaction and non-essential travel; the updated policy marks a change in tone from previous comments by the Vice-Chancellor stating that the University “can’t just shut down”.
A petition asking the University to consider cancelling “face-to-face teaching, meetings and non-essential services at UWE in the interests of the health and safety of staff, students and the general public” had already gained more than 800 signatures, at the time of writing.
Note: Official advice about the outbreak of COVID-19 can be found on the NHS’s website. Regularly updated advice on UWE’s website is also available.
At the time of writing, current NHS advice is to stay at home for 7 days if you have either a high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back OR a new, continuous cough – this means you’ve started coughing repeatedly. If you live with other people, they should stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person got symptoms.
The government and NHS are also advising people to wash their hands with soap and water often and for at least 20 seconds, and to always wash your hands when you get home or into work. Advice changes – check official sources for up-to-date information.
If you are feeling stressed or feel that your mental health is suffering for any reason, you should use UWE Wellbeing’s services.
The petition comes shortly after the University of Bristol announced it would end classroom-teaching from Wednesday 18 March due to the virus.
In an email addressed to students on Monday March 16th, the Vice-Chancellor states:
“Following on from the Government’s announcement to avoid social interaction and non-essential travel, the University has decided to suspend all teaching tomorrow (Tuesday 17 March 2020). The University remains open.
“This will allow us to look at how this announcement will impact on the University over the coming weeks. We will update you tomorrow evening about what the University’s full position is.
“If you have submissions tomorrow, online coursework should still be submitted online. Paper coursework should be submitted by 14:00 on the next day that the University is open (in line with University policy).
“We apologise for the late notice, but this is a rapidly evolving situation and we are working diligently to ensure that your education is not adversely impacted by this unprecedented global pandemic.”
Many have been critical of the University’s perceived delay to act, with petition-creator and student Katie M, who did not wish to give her full name, stating that cancelling face-to-face teaching would help in “minimising the risk and also creating an equal way to learn for everybody.” On the petition’s webpage, Katie criticises the University’s decision not to suspend teaching as “extremely ableist”.
Sadie Trent, a second year student in Politics and International Relations, who suffers from asthma, stated “I think it should close because it would save vulnerable people from catching the virus”, but added “don’t do it until all alternative support methods have been arranged, such as tutorials and disability support.”
Other prominent figures have criticized the UK government’s guidance. Anthony Costello, a former director of the World Health Organization (WHO), when speaking to The Guardian, criticized the end of community testing after the government announced it would mostly only test those in hospitals for the disease – a sentiment seemingly echoed by the WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who stated “[y]ou can’t fight a virus if you don’t know where it is” in a briefing given on 12 March.
Other services already suspended due to the virus include services from fellows at the Royal Literary Fund (RLF), professional writers employed by the RLF to offer free sessions helping students structure their writing, who have decided to suspend all appointments starting on Friday 20 March for the remainder of the academic year. Students are advised to use the library’s study support options instead.
Featured image: Jack Fifield