The University and Colleges Union (UCU) has said it will name and shame colleges and universities that are not doing enough to keep staff, students and the wider community safe.
The UCU said that while a lack of clear guidance from the Westminster government had not helped matters, institutions could not “hide behind the failings of ministers and had to demonstrate their commitment to keeping people safe".
An exclusive Tes survey published earlier this month found that two-thirds of teaching staff did not feel safe returning to college.
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Preparing for a local outbreak
Today, the UCU is launching a new system to allow members to relay their fears about institutions’ failings directly to the union. It said that staff will be encouraged to complete questionnaires about their institutions’ plans if someone is taken ill on campus or how a college would shut down in the event of an outbreak.
It added that any college or university not preparing to deal with a local outbreak was “in denial” about the severity of the challenges they would most likely face.
The union highlighted research which found that the infection rate among 17- to 21-year-olds is at 50 in 100,000 and increasing sharply.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that the evidence suggests that colleges and universities will be hit with further Covid-19 outbreaks.
She said: “Any institution not preparing for how it deals with one is in denial and failing staff, students and the wider community. We have already seen warnings that schools could be brought to a halt due to a lack of testing. We want to know what plans colleges and universities have for testing, details of their risk assessments and how they will protect people in the event of an outbreak.
“We accept that guidance from the government has not been up to scratch, but colleges and universities cannot hide behind the failings of ministers. They must step up and do the right things to protect their communities.
“We will be monitoring what comes in from members and will name and shame institutions that are not up to scratch. Our main objective is to help avert a preventable public health crisis. But if our members are concerned with how their college or university is behaving we will back them if they vote to move into dispute, which could result in ballots for industrial action.”
The union added that ministers needed to ensure a UK-wide system of coordinated testing was put in place for colleges and universities.