Credit: GG Photography and Illustrations Manager Allison Campbell (@allijcampbell)

The University failed freshers by not having an outbreak plan

By Elena Adams

You hardly needed a crystal ball to predict that Covid cases would increase when students moved into halls, so shouldn’t the University have had a plan from the beginning?

Every student who has ever been a fresher in halls knows that, sometimes, they’re not all that great. Not only have you just moved in with a bunch of strangers, but you’re also away from home and starting a university course that you might have never studied before. Now, imagine being stuck in prison-like halls, watching your first lectures online, and not being allowed to leave because of a virus quarantine – that’s what this year’s first years have had to face. But, when thousands of students from all over the country, move into the same halls during a pandemic, what more could you expect? And more importantly, what more could the University of Glasgow have done to make halls a safer and, possibly even, a better experience for this year’s freshers’? 

From 14  September the Scottish government put in place new rules that stated only two households could meet, yet that same weekend thousands of students across Scotland were moving into their university halls with at least four other people from different households. Of course, outbreaks were going to occur. However, the University didn’t seem to have prepared for this inevitable outbreak of Covid cases at all. The rules from the start were to only interact with your own household, and that any large gatherings would be punished. Yet, according to Sean Andrew, a resident of Kelvinhaugh Gate, nothing ever really happened “apart from gatherings getting shut down by staff with no repercussions”. Josie McGarvey, a Murano resident said it was similar for her: “People went to house parties but the University didn’t do too much to stop them at the beginning.” So, should the University have been stricter? And would this have actually made any difference to case numbers anyway? Perhaps it would have stopped some parties, but no matter what the University did there was no stopping the outbreak in the first couple weeks. However, the University definitely could have been more prepared for the number of students that would need to isolate.

Students were left alone in their halls, being told to quarantine with as few as four or as many as 12 other people they had never met before. As you can imagine, there’s never been a worse time to have bad flatmates. Many students were also left unable to clean their clothes while isolating as they were not allowed out of their own buildings. Instead, they were told to wash their clothes in the sink with washing powder that never arrived. It’s clear that they could have been more prepared, especially when it came to food packages for isolating students. Many students that had to quarantine early on were stuck with little to no food options. Sean Andrew said: “They started handing out food packaged after, what felt like, pressure from students in the University … It was only really enough for maybe breakfast and dinner for like two days.” Food trucks were also made available to some students, but often they were served too late for many. Of course, they could get food delivered, or friends and family to help out, but like Josie says: “In the beginning, there wasn’t much from them [the University] and I think a lot of people felt a little bit stranded.” Understandably, students have been feeling as though they’ve been thrown in the deep end and left stranded with little information from the University to help them. 

Everything and everyone is new as a fresher, and sometimes it takes a while to get settled in. So, with all of that on top of living amidst a global pandemic, mental health support has probably never been more vital. Lecturers and tutors have all been supportive and understanding of the situation that everyone is in and according to Josie: “They [the University] also had some staff call us to check up on us and if we had any questions. And they sent out emails … about advice and their services for people isolating.” However, like the food packages, this support wasn’t given when everyone first arrived at halls but later on, leaving many floundering at their most vulnerable first lonely nights at university.

There was really nothing the University could’ve done to stop the influx of cases in halls, and they seemed to have slowly improved and adjusted to support students throughout the pandemic. However, considering that a rise in cases was obviously going to happen after students from all over the country moved into the same accommodation, shouldn’t they have been better prepared from the start for what any non-expert could have predicted? Perhaps if they had been then students would have felt safer within their flats and more in control of their situation, and left not wanting to drop out from the outset. The University should have had plans in place for when Covid cases started rising within their accommodation, as was inevitable, and maybe then students would have received the support and resources they needed. 


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