The University provided inadequate financial and welfare support to halls students during the autumn semester.
The Glasgow Guardian can reveal that the University of Glasgow has failed to deliver on its promise to support students living in university-owned accommodation, during the autumn semester. In a survey circulated by Glasgow University Student Tenants Union (GUSTU), students answered that they had been given inadequate or no welfare support and that some are still yet to receive the financial compensation that they were promised.
The survey, circulated by GUSTU in November, found a quarter of students in halls had not received the £50 in compensation by the University, which had been promised to them at the start of the semester. It comes after the University announced at the start of the semester that they would provide extra support for students who were self-isolating in halls. The principal, Anton Muscatelli, had promised students that the “significant extra support measures” would include a four-week rent rebate and £50 to spend on local food deliveries.
A spokesperson from GUSTU commented on the support measures: “Results prove that [the support measures] were not real attempts to help students through the mire in which the University placed them, but to simply save as much face as possible and avoid the vocal backlash which UofG was facing across social media and the press.
“The initial response saw food trucks arriving at Murano Street, initially handing out free food and then selling after the first weekend. Thereafter and elsewhere bland food deliveries which failed to meet many dietary and some nutritional requirements became the extent of physical support. Attempts to beat back calls for a rent strike saw serious concessions from management, which amounts to both an admission of their folly and real fears about the potential power of a student body united in anger against them.”
In addition to the financial support, the University stated that they would provide “proactive welfare calls” to isolating students. However, nearly half of the students surveyed said that they had received no such calls. Of those who stated that they had received calls, three-quarters of students said that the calls had been unhelpful. It is unclear what would constitute a proactive welfare call, but an FOI request stated that staff are given “an information sheet detailing the mental health resources available to students including; self-help information, details of how to access the counselling service, external services and Togetherall”. The University told The Glasgow Guardian: “We made 2,500 proactive welfare calls during the outbreak in halls in case we could offer help during a difficult time. In addition, we introduced a comprehensive package of support for everyone in residences, including delivering 10,000 free hot meals, a four-week rent rebate and £50 for food and supplies.”
Freshers’ told GUSTU that the University has been implementing a red card and yellow card disciplinary system. One submission stated that the University “tried to silence us by threatening us with yellow cards if we put messages on our windows asking for help, among other things”. The University of Glasgow contested this: “The red and yellow card system was proposed by Universities Scotland some months ago. We have never operated it at the University.”
Students also answered that they had not received pandemic guidance by the University of Glasgow. Over half of the students surveyed said that the University’s pandemic support had not been clearly signposted and available to them. 80% of students answered that the autumn semester had put a strain on their mental health, and three quarters answered that they were unsatisfied with Glasgow University’s mental health service. Additionally, 57% of students answered that they had been sleeping poorly, terribly, or not at all. In an FOI submitted by The Glasgow Guardian, the University stated that the Counselling Services had been given no additional funding to cope with this academic year.
The Glasgow Guardian found that “452 students are currently registered with the counselling service for ongoing therapy or Mental Health Advisor services”. These appointments are currently offered by video link or telephone, but “this is under ongoing review” according to the FOI. At the start of the pandemic, 168 students declined the offer of remote therapy, and “of that 168, 37 specified that their decision was due to the pandemic”.
The Glasgow Guardian asked the University how they would support student mental health during the second semester. They responded: “We will ensure that during semester two we’re working within the Scottish government guidance so that students can have the best possible experience, whilst keeping safe and well. This will involve blended learning, prioritising access to campus for subjects that require face-to-face teaching and we hope to be able to run a programme of sports and some events, as was the case this term. This will increase as the Scottish government’s guidance permits.” They added that students should make use of the Counselling Services and Togetherall, or raise issues through Living Support Assistants.
In a Scottish government briefing held in November, further and higher education minister Richard Lochead announced: “All known positive cases among university students since the start of term [are] estimated to be around 1.5%.” However, in the same briefing, he said “between 60,000 and 80,000” students at Scottish Universities are expected to return home for Christmas. To cope with this, the University is offering students a “lateral flow Covid-19 test which is voluntary and free of charge. The spokesperson for GUSTU said: “The University of Glasgow’s failure to make any significant preparations for the return of students to the city shows the disregard with which halls students have been treated since the start of the semester… the University’s senior managers took no proactive steps at all to support and make amends for their irresponsible decision making, and when they did take action it was only in a face-saving attempt to quell growing calls for a rent strike in Murano Street. This response makes clear that the University’s attempts to improve the situation only came about as a bare-faced public relations response to growing public furore and potential lost revenue.”
GUSTU is on Instagram: @gustudenttenantsunion
Their survey can still be completed here.
Editorial Note: An earlier version of this article stated that students had not received financial compensation, including the £50 compensation and rent rebate. However The Glasgow Guardian has since been made aware that all students received the rent rebate, but that a quarter of students surveyed still have not received the £50 compensation.
Editorial Note: The University has challenged the statistics in the survey and at time off publication claim 174 students had not accessed the £50 compensation, which amounts to around 7% of hall students.