Bristol UCU Newsflash, 17th December 2020

1) Dispute Latest

On Tuesday this week, Branch Negotiators had their third scheduled meeting of the Dispute Resolution Process. One more meeting will be scheduled early in the new year.

While Branch Negotiators are pleased to report some welcome movement regarding risk assessment and ‘devolved’ blending learning decision-making (see below), the University has not agreed to our headline demands as laid out in our branch motion ‘University of Bristol COVID-19 Institutional Response’ [link].

The next step for the branch is to determine our response to the current outcome of these talks.

The Branch Executive meets early next year, on Tuesday 5th January, to determine the branch’s initial response. It will also determine how to consult members, such as by calling an online Extra-Ordinary General Meeting and/or by running a e-consultation of Bristol UCU members.

The general questions to consider: are there now grounds to end the dispute, should the dispute be continued into Teaching Block 2, and is the branch minded to take any further action to achieve our core demands?

The positive outcomes of the talks include:

  • modification of the individual risk assessment process to enable clinically diagnosed stress/anxiety to trigger approval of online only teaching. The individual risk assessment form would be updated shortly;
  • exceptions to blended learning made to Deans will now be considered with Faculty Joint Trade Unions committees before a formal decision. Faculty Student Course Reps will also be involved. These committees need to happen as early as possible next year and before TB2.

Branch Negotiators had also proposed the publication of risk assessments for individual teaching rooms on the timetabling website. The current logistics of how to do this are still under discussion.

Other UCU proposals were sadly not agreed to. For example, the University – both the Academic Planning Group and the University Executive Board – rejected a hard limit on the number of in-person teaching hours per week per individual member of staff, one argument being that this could not be done at this stage of timetabling prior to TB2.

Branch Negotiators noted their disappointment: we believe that this would not necessarily involve a large number of staff, would protect often casualised staff doing a high volume of teaching, and that the issue was not one of rescheduling classes, but of changing the mode of delivery.

The University did confirm that any instances of individuals carrying out over 6 hours of face-to-face teaching per week in TB2, where the risk assessment process was not dealing with their concerns, could be reviewed.

In short, negotiators recognized that the principal requests of the motion had not been met, while welcoming the steps taken and the fact that TB1 is online as of 7th December. These principal requests were:

  • ‘an immediate cessation of unnecessary face-to-face, in-person teaching at the University of Bristol, with an immediate transition to online learning in all possible areas, for at least Teaching Block 1 of 2020-21, guided by individual disciplinary needs and practical teaching delivery considerations’;
  • ‘that the University changes its current institutional policy and allows staff to teach online, where they do not feel safe teaching in-person, to do so’

The University reiterated their position that campus was COVID-secure, classroom transmission is still not evident, positive cases on campus and in the community are markedly falling, comprehensive student and staff testing is in place, a changing national context plus forthcoming vaccine may reassure staff and students, and University decisions were made based on scientific advice from Public Health England and from the University’s Scientific Advisory Group.