Tue 29 Sep, 2020

Scottish Greens Education Spokesperson Ross Greer MSP has proposed a support package for university students following the chaotic situation that has emerged in student halls.

  1. Guaranteed provision of essentials for students in lockdown 
  2. Guaranteed mental health support 
  3. Ensure online teaching is the default for this academic year
  4. Establish a no-detriment policy for students leaving halls
  5. Provide clear guidance to students on their tenancy rights
  6. Access to testing for staff and for students wishing to return home
  7. Manage the number of students remaining in halls and returning home

In a letter to Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead, Mr Greer has called on the Scottish Government to guarantee the provision of essentials like food and toiletries, guarantee mental health support, ensure online teaching is the default for this academic year, establish a no-detriment policy for students leaving halls, provide clear guidance to students on their tenancy rights, ensure access to testing for staff and students wishing to return home, and produce an action plan aimed at reducing the overall population of student halls, provided students wish to return home.

Ross Greer MSP said:

“It is now clear that the decision to resume term-time student accommodation arrangements as if things were back to normal has resulted in a significant rise in infections. The living arrangements in many halls of residence are simply not compatible with suppressing this virus, even when every rule is being followed.

“I’m aware of reports of halls providers appearing to attempt to prevent students from exercising their rights under the emergency coronavirus legislation to terminate their tenancies, including by threatening to kick students off their course if they leave halls. The Greens secured this right for students back in June and we will not tolerate it being obstructed. The Government must work with tenants’ organisations and students’ associations to establish clear guidance and information for students on their tenancy rights, including the right to cancel their halls of residence tenancies.

“Access to testing, including walk-though on campus sites, is necessary to ensure transmission among students can be caught early and outbreaks brought under control. Critical to students wishing to return home though is access to testing regardless of whether or not they are symptomatic or have been in contact with a positive case. Many students will need to return home for reasons of mental health and emotional support but will be understandably reluctant to do so if they believe they could bring the virus back to vulnerable family members.

“Having students, many of whom have left home for the first time, confined to tiny bedrooms and extremely limited common areas within their flats places a significant burden on their mental health and I am extremely concerned at the patchy nature of mental health support on offer from their universities. Access to counselling and mental health support should be guaranteed for all students. In the first instance this is the responsibility of their university, but the Scottish Government has a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of all residents and so should ensure that each university’s provision is adequate, intervening where this is not the case.

“Some universities have simply not been quick enough to put practical support packages in place, with reports now emerging of students locked down without adequate access to food or other essential items. The Scottish Government should work with all universities and halls providers to ensure that students in lockdown are given direct support, including ensuring they have adequate supplies of food, toiletries, and other essential items, taking a similar approach to that adopted for shielding households.

“The Government should work with universities and higher education unions to establish online teaching as the norm wherever possible. The UCU has already called for teaching to move online and this is now the case in most instances, but inconsistencies remain across the country. It’s also essential that universities agree that no student should be penalised for being unable to attend university classes later in the year because they have been forced to move out of halls.

“The Higher Education Minister must urgently develop an action plan in collaboration with universities and students’ associations to manage the reduction in the student halls population whilst minimising the risk of transmission into the wider community from those returning home.”

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