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“Confused” and “anxious” students criticise “lack of support” as Sturgeon announces online learning until end of February

Following announcements on Monday that both Scotland and England would enter March-style lockdowns, the UK government in Westminster was quick to outline that English universities would revert to online teaching until mid-February. 

Yet in her statement on Monday, Nicola Sturgeon failed to outline what the new lockdown in Scotland meant for Scottish universities. 

She instead said that she was looking “very urgently” at potential changes to the planned staggered return of students. 

The University of Edinburgh did email students on Wednesday afternoon to indicate that there would be a delay for students “due to start the in-person, on-campus elements of their programme on or after 25th January 2021” 

But they admitted that they “do not know how long that delay will be” and are working with the government to confirm details. 

Speaking to The Student, a third year University of Edinburgh student slammed the university’s lack of clear communication in the period between Monday and Friday, saying: 

“The complete lack of communication from the university has been appalling. 

“My peers and myself included have been left feeling both confused and anxious about whether we are allowed to return to university at all. 

“Universities such as Manchester and Oxford gave clear instructions to their students  within a day of the lockdown announcement whereas Edinburgh once again has been slow to react, leaving Edinburgh students in the dark and unable to plan forward.”

On Friday, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that universities in Scotland would revert to online teaching until the end of February and urged students not to return to term-time accommodation until then “wherever possible”. 

Commenting on the government’s delay in setting out clear guidance for students, an honours English Literature student said: 

“It’s enormously frustrating to be in this dilemma of whether to return to university or not – on one hand, we are advised to stay at home, but on the other hand, it would be massively detrimental to both my studies and my mental health to do so.

“The lack of support, clear guidance, and compassion from both university management and the government have been astounding.”

Another University of Edinburgh third year student, speaking to The Student, highlighted the financial and logistical strain that the “constant changing of tune” of the government placed on students: 

“Had we known essentially all uni would be online, perhaps some students wouldn’t have taken up a lease for the exceptionally overpriced flats.

“If we had been aware of how stigmatised our return to said extortionate flats would be, perhaps people would have packed up before Christmas and not be in the position now where work and personal belongings have been left behind. 

“It’s easy to see this as a mere hindrance for students who can afford to adapt like this, but who will take into consideration students who can’t, for whom the financial strain of university is momentous even without a pandemic. 

“The university has failed to consider the fact students aren’t just revenue nor can they accommodate every decision that is made at short notice.”

The University of Edinburgh is yet to respond to a petition created on Monday that calls for the instatement of a “no detriment” policy for final year students, aimed at alleviating the academic pressure on students. 

Speaking to The Student, an honours English Literature and History student, criticised the university’s failure to thus far alleviate “unnecessary academic pressure”: 

“While I have been impressed by the response of individual tutors to the current situation and their efforts to deliver a semblance of learning, the lack of a unified approach by the university and the total absence of communication has left me feeling entirely alone with my studies.

“Compassion and understanding can go a long way in an environment, where everyday our futures are being eroded. 

“This could simply be achieved by alleviating the unnecessary academic pressure that has only been ramped up. 

“It is within the university’s power to reduce one element of the huge stress faced by students and yet they don’t.” 

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said:

“We understand and share students’ desire for clarity following the recent Scottish Government announcement, as we appreciate how important this is for our students’ planning. 

“We have been urgently speaking with Government officials to better understand the impact these new regulations will have on the planned phased return to campus this semester, and have communicated as much information we have as quickly as we can to make any changes as clear as possible. 

“Earlier this week, we sent an email to all students explaining that learning and teaching will restart on the week of 11th January digitally, but with the exception of a small number of programmes mainly associated with placements and other practical elements, there would be a delay in the resumption of in-person, on-campus teaching until at least 25th January.

“Following today’s announcement from the Scottish Government, we understand that this will be until at least the end of February.

“We are continuing to work with the Scottish Government to confirm details and will share them with our University community as soon as possible.”

Image: kaysgeog via flickr