"A disaster waiting to happen" - NUIG staff raise Covid concerns
Staff at the college are said to be "concerned and angry".
Staff at NUI Galway have raised concerns about the implementation of social distancing measures as the college prepares to welcome back students at the end of the month. SIPTU have also written to the Minister for Further Education Simon Harris and NPHET to seek clarification on the guidelines.
Worried staff contacted JOE to highlight these concerns, describing the college's plans as a "disaster waiting to happen".
Under public health guidance issued for third-level institutions last month, a physical distance of two metres "should be maintained under all circumstances possible", with the guidelines explicitly stating that "it should be feasible to maintain 2m distance between members of staff, or between staff and students, under almost all circumstances".
The guidelines do state that there will be circumstances under which teaching cannot be delivered while maintaining the recommended two-metre distance, and in those circumstances the guidelines recommend that a one-metre distance may be employed, but not less than that, and face coverings need to be worn. However, this allowance is under the proviso that teaching takes place in a "variety of settings", and is designed to allow for practical lessons to take place.
In a statement released to JOE, NUIG said that "as required by the 'Implementation Guidelines for Public Health Measures in Higher Education Institutions', space on campus, including teaching space will be ‘laid out and managed in order to safeguard the health of both staff and students’.
"A physical distance of 2m is maintained as default in all campus settings 'where possible'. In all cases, without exception, staff and students will be required to take appropriate mitigation measures including the wearing of face visors and face masks at all times in indoor settings on campus, as well as adherence to good hygiene etiquette."
NUIG say their position "is fully consistent with the Government’s 'Implementation Guidelines for Public Health Measures in Higher Education Institutions'."
In a photo seen by JOE of the proposed social distancing in a lecture theatre in NUIG (above), every second seat has been signposted as not to be used. With a seat measurement of approximately 80cm, according to a member of staff, this would leave students less than one metre apart from one another.
JOE also understands that academic staff at the university passed a resolution during a SIPTU General Members meeting last week, stating that they will not co-operate with one-metre distancing, saying that it is "in contradiction of best practice".
A staff member who was present for the meeting described it as "intense", and said that "staff are concerned and angry".
NUIG have said the University is" engaging with academic staff representatives to reach agreement this week on planning parameters."
SIPTU representatives on Wednesday wrote to Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, "seeking clarification on the public health guidelines for the return of students and staff to third level campuses".
SIPTU Public Administration and Community Division Organiser, Adrian Kane, said: “These guidelines were published in early August but there remains a lack of clarity on how they should be implemented. This has resulted in a wide variation in the interpretation of the guidelines by individual educational institutions."
Kane also said that SIPTU have referred the guidelines to NPHET in light of the recent rise in confirmed cases of Covid-19 “in order to confirm that they are in compliance with the most up to date public health advice”.
NUIG's statement concludes that "at all times the health and safety of our staff and students is our priority and our planning is guided by the Government’s Implementation Guidelines for Public Health Measures in Higher Education Institutions.
This article was updated to include a response from NUIG.