Deputy News Editors
The University of Glasgow has been accused of mishandling the ongoing issues concerning the McGregor Building, which serves as a workspace for PhD students. Accusations include inaction on the part of the University following a damning fire safety report and an allegation that a member of staff from the School of Social and Political Sciences implied that the building would not be fit for staff.
The Health and Safety Coordinator for the School of Social and Political Sciences (SSPS) recently identified ‘no major issues’ following an annual visual inspection of of all buildings occupied by SSPS students, despite a fire risk assessment highlighting 24 separate fire hazards in the McGregor Building.
The fire risk assessment, conducted by Safety and Environmental Protection Services on 20 November 2014, concluded that, despite recent improvements to the building, the ‘means of escape is potentially compromised at various points […] and potential firespread risk is considered high’. The assessment also noted that chemistry labs within the building ‘store various associated chemicals and compounds [and] nitrogen and carbon dioxide cylinders are stored throughout’. Improvements were made to the McGregor Building following a complaint made anonymously to the SSPS in August by postgraduate research students who were allocated office accommodation in the building. The complaint was subject to an extensive Stage Two Senate complaint investigation.
After the improvements were made, however, the building was given a damning Premise Occupational Risk Rating of 12/15. Estates and Buildings, the department responsible for maintaining the University’s estate, has agreed to lead and coordinate further improvements to the building to address all of the fire safety concerns by May 2015 at the latest. However, the Fire Assessment Action Plan shows that none of proposed action has yet been completed even though there are 24 separate breaches of the regulations set out in the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005.
According to Safety & Environmental Protection Services, the most serious breaches of the regulations should have been dealt with within four weeks, and all of the high priority action should have been completed by either January, February or March 2015.
The fire safety concerns outlined by Safety and Environmental Protection Services in its assessment includes numerous ignition sources in lab areas of the Building; no arrangements in place to ensure that fire safety provision is being monitored and maintained; no evidence that staff had completed fire awareness training via Moodle; numerous instances of means of escape being compromised; and fire doors being wedged open throughout the building.
The SSPS invited all Postgraduate Research students based in the McGregor Building to a Town Hall Meeting held on Wednesday 25th February to discuss the improvements that have been made since the complaint was made in August 2014 and to reflect on the issues raised by the investigation.
The current SRC President, Breffni O’Connor, who was present at the meeting, told the Glasgow Guardian: “The current state of the McGregor building has vastly improved for the students studying there since the SRC first raised concerns. We appreciate the work of Estates and Buildings throughout, however there still remains a lack of trust between students and the School which was caused by a lack of communication from the School both before the move and after faults were identified.
“A town hall meeting was held this week, which was a good forum to improve communication, albeit on the terms of the School, much like instances in the past where the School refused to use an anonymous Gmail account set up by the students and instead created their own mailing list.
“During the meeting a member of staff belonging to the School of Social and Political Sciences made the remark that he would not ask staff to move into the McGregor Building, which came up in conversations after the students asked for this to be considered in order to build up trust and integrate the students better with staff and the School.”
A spokesperson for the University said: “The Head of School and other attendees discussed the rationale of the School’s position, which has been approved by the School’s Executive Committee after wide consultation and was also considered by the Senate complaint investigation, but at no point did he comment that we would not be personally happy for staff to be based in the Building. The Building could provide suitable accommodation for staff; however, the School currently considers that the Building is best utilised as dedicated space for doctoral students that are in the process of completing their thesis.”
In August last year, postgraduate students reported that the building was unfit for purpose as the tap water was undrinkable, the windows did not open making the building extremely warm during the summer months, the locks on the doors were unreliable and the building was infested with cockroaches and silverfish. Due to the disruption to the students’ studies, they were given a one month extension on their PhDs. However, the majority of the students rely on funding to carry out their PhDs and the extension given to them will not be covered, as their funding only extends to the end of term.
A spokesman for the University said that: “The McGregor Building is a safe and secure working environment for staff and students, which has benefited from significant recent investment by the University. The use of the Building as a hub for PhD researchers was recently subject to an extensive Stage 2 Senate complaint investigation, which found that the premises provided high-quality office accommodation. [...] The McGregor Building constitutes a key part of the School of Social & Political Sciences’ and the Adam Smith Business School’s facilities for PhD students, together with providing teaching and laboratory facilities for the of College Medicine, Veterinary & Life Sciences, which have been independently assessed to provide a good working environment”.
Breffni O’Connor told the Glasgow Guardian that: “The outcome of the Senate complaint was, in my opinion, unsatisfactory. The students have endured an unfit building, a lack of respect and have not had the same student experience as their peers.
“Going forward, there will be a Building User Group which will contain SRC representation and we will be closely monitoring future works due to take place and the relationship between the School and students. We will also be raising this with members of Senior Management Group so they are informed of progress and aware of our position”.