St Andrews University students tell of anger over 'voluntary lockdown'

19 September 2020, 19:19 | Updated: 19 September 2020, 22:56

By Ewan Somerville

Students have voiced anger after St Andrews University asked them to enter voluntary lockdown despite “no evidence” coronavirus is surging in the area. 

Vice-chancellor Sally Mapstone wrote to students on Friday asking them to “remain in your rooms as much as possible” from 7pm, lasting over the weekend.

In an “urgent and important message” with hours notice, she also asked them not to party, avoid bars and restaurants and refrain from mixing with people outside their households.

But anger is brewing in the Fife town, with students and academics furious at being invited back to campus for the start of term - only to be locked down four days later. 

“We’ve literally been here 13 days, the uni didn’t even try to facilitate safe social interaction which led to rule flouting,” said Rhiannon Woolford, an international relations student at St Andrews. 

“Even so, they should never have brought us back. I don’t know how I’m going to cope with this mentally.”

St Andrews students have been urged not to leave their residence
St Andrews students have been urged not to leave their residence. Picture: PA

Another St Andrews student, Alaia Nicholson, said the university had suspended its library click and collect services and complained she had “no access” to resources or alternative solutions. 

“Can't believe St Andrews forced all its students back to a remote Scottish town, only to complain about them being there and place them into a ‘voluntary lockdown’ for the weekend,” she said. 

“It's not bloody voluntary if you shut the library, cancel bookings and remove all access to resources.”

Kirsty MacDonald, a third-year neuroscience student, tweeted a video of an “obnoxiously loud” siren blaring at 7pm in the university’s student residences, adding: “We didn't even make it a week. Who's shocked?”

Locals reported “large groups wandering the streets drunk” at 11pm on Friday night, while an LBC reporter observed students appearing to flout the rules. 

Academics also vented fury at the new measures. Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, which represents 120,000 academic staff, called the situation “a mess” and “predictable and avoidable”. 

“Several weeks ago UCU warned this would happen,” she said, adding: “We need as much teaching as possible moved online & decisive leadership to stop more students needlessly returning to campus and risk being stranded in lockdown, miles away from home.”

Announcing the strict new measure on Friday, the principal Ms Mapstone said she appreciated some students could view her actions as “premature” but that Scotland had “acted too slowly in the past”.

But she added: "I must stress that this is pre-emptive and proactive action.

"There is no evidence that the virus is surging in our community. Rather it is because as a country we are now in a very fast-moving phase where early intervention is key, and hours make a difference."

Last Friday police were called to disperse a gathering of about 50 young people on a beach in the town.

The previous day, NHS Fife said two people with links to the university had tested positive for Covid-19.