This week, cracks that were already showing in the relationship between lecturers, universities, and the government turn into a chasm, as the UK’s largest lecturer’s union threatens to go on strike over student and staff safety.
The UK isn't the only country where tension between staff and universities is mounting - just a few weeks ago I reported that academics were turning down jobs at US universities due to their poor handling of the pandemic.
Also in the US, where term started earlier than in the UK, colleges and universities are still struggling to get to grips with effective, regular testing systems for their staff and students, leading to high infection rates that aren’t going anywhere. It’s a pattern that is likely to be reflected in other university communities across the world, as problems with testing persist.
There’s some positive news, though; New Zealand is planning to begin to allow international students back into the country from as early as next month - although the new rules will only apply to a select few.
Here’s your weekly roundup of everything higher education from around the world this week.
Three branches of the University and College Union (UCU) have said they could go on strike if teaching is not moved online. They’re no stranger to industrial action, after 22 days of strikes over pensions and pay last year, but some might question how much impact their picketing really has after they failed to reach any meaningful agreement after last year’s action.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady called the current working environment “unsafe”, and said the last few weeks had been an “awful start to the year”.
And ministers are reportedly considering a plan that would see all UK universities locked down for two weeks before the end of term, in order to allow students to return home for Christmas. The plan has been criticised by some vice chancellors, who feel that they don’t have the power to lock students in their houses.
Analysts have concluded that most US universities are failing to consistently test their students for coronavirus, citing funding as the main reason for the problem.
Reports suggest that colleges are responsible for 2,000 to 3,000 new infections each day, with even universities that planned to test students regularly failing to keep control of the virus on their campuses.
And undergraduate enrolment in US colleges has dropped by 4 percent this semester - a fall that is largely attributed to new students deferring their places due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, with international student enrolment alone down 14 percent, keeping up student numbers – and therefore student fees – will be a very real concern for universities over the coming year.
New Zealand’s government is making plans to open their borders to a select few international students from as early as next month.
The new policy will prioritise postgraduate students with a valid 2020 visa who need to be in the country for practical research or coursework, with only 250 students expected to qualify for November arrival.
However, the news is a welcome change from previous announcements, which had suggested that international students would not be allowed back in the country before the middle of 2021.