UofG has a lot of growing to do this year.
As we step into the first days and weeks of a new year, it’s customary to pause and take stock of our lives, to look inward, and decide which habits we wish to shed and which we want to continue, and in doing so we formulate our resolutions for the year to come. Universities, like their students, are equally capable of engaging in this valuable introspection and possibly better positioned than many of us to act upon their resolutions. The University of Glasgow, despite having a fruitful 2020 on paper, has much growing to do in regards to advocating for and ensuring the health of all its students as the pandemic continues to haunt us into 2021.
In terms of benchmarks and praise, last year for the University of Glasgow resulted in some significant accolades, primarily UofG being named the Times Higher Education’s (THE) University of the Year, for the university’s investigation and subsequent recognition of its own involvement in the slave trade, and its attempts at reparative justice. Additionally, the University rose in both the THE World University Rankings and the Guardian league tables to 12th place. However, despite these shiny titles, University of Glasgow was not immune to the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, seeing the same administrative failures and injustices regarding access to health services that plagued the UK at large mirrored on a university scale.
Following a relatively chaotic departure from accommodation for most UofG students, the University then stumbled badly in its mission to provide students with a safe return to campus in autumn. The failure to stagger students or enable social distancing measures resulted in an outbreak of Covid cases, with students confined to their rooms in flats, and with those who were sick often having restricted access to food and utilities. With a staggered return looming, and the subject of health weighing heavily on everyone’s minds, I think the University must focus its new year’s resolutions on ensuring a healthy year for all of its students, and in doing so must step into a greater role of publicly lobbying the Scottish government on student’s behalf as well as looking at expanding their testing infrastructure.
The word on the street is cancel rent. With tier four going into effect and the University asking students who travelled home for Christmas to delay their term-time return, it becomes imperative for the Scottish government to cancel rent in order to ensure that this delay is economically feasible for all students. The University has rightly provided students living in halls with the option of a rent rebate for the month of January, in addition to promising to move students who test positive for the virus to separate accommodation. Students in private accommodation, however, are faced with paying rent for a flat they are told not to inhabit. The recently founded GU Student Tenants Union has been out front on this issue, gathering signatures on a petition addressed to the Scottish government; the University of Glasgow should voice support for this initiative as well.
Aside from rent cancellation, frequent and free testing is vital. The addition of lateral flow testing through the University during high travel periods is ideal; however, it should be expanded for the entirety of term time in order to make testing access easier for students living in student accommodation. Otherwise, the nearest testing location is the Glasgow Caledonian University site, which is not particularly convenient for those in student halls to get to without using public transportation, placing them at risk of infecting others or being exposed to the virus en route. The University of Glasgow aims to be a somewhat forward-facing institution, but many of its initiatives only skim the surface. Its tepid divestment from fossil fuels while simultaneously failing to divest from the arms trade reveals that they pander to the positive press that comes from being a “woke” institution so to speak, without truly detangling themselves from the harmful practices that come from running a university like a business. The next few months of the new year will be extremely important for the University, and their implementation of preventative measures as well as their response to any Covid-19 outbreaks in the student population will reveal the lengths they are willing to go to for their students and whether or not our fees prove more valuable than our lives.
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