Newcastle universities switch to online lessons amid surge in Covid-19 cases

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Two more universities are moving the majority of their classes online due to coronavirus outbreaks among students.

All teaching at Northumbria and Newcastle universities will switch online from Thursday for a minimum of three weeks – unless in-person lessons are an essential part of the course.

The move comes after more than 750 Northumbria University students have tested positive for Covid-19, and more than 100 students and staff at Newcastle University have also contracted the virus.

Ahead of the changes, staff at Northumbria had called on vice-chancellor Andrew Wathey to resign as University and College Union (UCU) members agreed to ballot for industrial action over safety concerns.

Newcastle’s universities join the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Sheffield who have switched to online learning to protect the health of students and staff.

Nearly 60 universities across the UK have confirmed cases of Covid-19, after thousands of undergraduates returned to campus for the start of the autumn term in recent weeks.

The Newcastle universities said they had made the decision together in consultation with the area’s director of public health and the city council.

They added that it was important that further measures were taken to limit the spread of the virus after they saw large numbers of reported Covid-19 positive cases across the student population.

Iain Owens, UCU regional official, said: “It was the right decision for Newcastle’s universities to move learning online.

“But it should not have taken the threat of industrial action for Northumbria University to put the health and safety of its staff and students first.

“Newcastle’s universities need to make sure staff are given the resources to provide students with a high quality remote learning experience and undertake careful longer-term planning.

“They also need to fully consult with unions before any return to in-person teaching, and not rush to get staff and students back onto campus.”

He added: “We now desperately need a nationally co-ordinated response from Government that moves working online across all universities to help lower the rate of transmission and stem this crisis.”

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