The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has described the government’s decision to potentially compel high-risk staff members to work as “very worrying”.
The government currently allows higher education institutions to assess a high-risk staff member’s capacity to work in person on a case-by-case basis.
The government guidelines for third-level, published at the beginning of August, state that high-risk staff and staff living with very high-risk individuals will be “risk assessed on a case-by-case basis with appropriate measures implemented accordingly”.
Staff in the very high-risk category, however, will not be “required to teach face to face” and universities must “facilitate such staff to work remotely, including offering teaching and learning online, where this is necessary”.
Speaking to The University Times, Chair of Trinity’s branch of IFUT John Walsh said that while it was reassuring that very high-risk staff will not be required to teach face to face, “it’s very worrying that staff living with very high-risk individuals or staff in the high-risk category who may have serious underlying medical conditions may be obliged to teach face to face”.
Walsh described the provision related to high-risk staff as “ambiguous and unclear”.
“The government guidance suggests that the staff in the high-risk category will be risk assessed on a case-by-case basis. This is ambivalent and problematic, and it could create very significant problems for those staff.”
“From IFUT’s perspective, we will be working to protect staff in the high-risk category and we will be seeking a flexible and common sense approach from the universities on it”, he added.
Most Trinity students received their timetables for the coming year yesterday.
In an interview with The University Times, Senior Lecturer Kevin Mitchell and Áine Kelly, the chair of the resumption of teaching working group, said that high-risk staff and students would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and will be managed by their Head of School. The head may, for example, move teaching online or delegate teaching to other lecturers.
Staff and students will, however, have to complete their in-person work, unless they meet the guidelines to allow them to move online.
“Certainly for staff, [Trinity] is an employer and people who are employed here to do a certain job are expected to show up to work unless they have a reason not to”, Mitchell said.