Scottish unis shouldn’t have let us back on campus just to punish us for being students

A Covid spike? When you told thousands of students to return to campus? Groundbreaking

The return to campus has led to a spike in coronavirus cases in universities across the UK. Cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen, which were some of the first British Unis to welcome students back, are experiencing Covid spikes across their Uni accommodations.

Now, the Scottish government has started implementing and threatening further restrictions on students’ lives. This includes banning students from going to pubs and restaurants and restricting students from meeting up with outside households (including their own families). Even the English government is threatening to ban students from returning home for Christmas. They’re playing fast and loose with the tightening and loosening of Covid restrictions, when students’ mental health and livelihoods are at stake.

To preface, I understand that something needs to happen. Cases are on a rise, and we can’t keep going on as we have been. We don’t want the virus to spread – no student wants that. We’re not psychopaths. Also, I’m not saying that throwing massive illegal house parties with a bunch of households was ever acceptable. What I am saying is the government and universities are blaming students for something that they should’ve anticipated – but they made us go back anyway.

Unis shouldn’t have let us back in the first place

I’m pissed off that the government and universities were the ones to encourage us to come back to our campuses in the first place, but because they didn’t prepare for a spike in cases, students are the ones who pay the price. Many of these universities even advertised a “hybrid” learning approach that promised students they would get at least some in-person uni experience. Obviously people came back.

But am I seriously the only person who knew this was going to happen? Unis brought thousands of students from all over the country and the world into one community, many of whom were socially anxious, excited freshers, and lightly encouraged them to social distance. And cases are now spiking. This is my surprised face.

I would feel very differently if universities stepped up and took responsibility for this situation. What we need is a statement that says: “This was a calculated risk we took, and we have these measures in place that will allow students to continue to live their lives while we address the rise in cases.”

But, even after six months of preparation, unis weren’t ready. You know what else they weren’t ready for? The prospect of losing out on thousands of students’ rent money. So, instead of telling people ‘you shouldn’t come back because it’s not safe’, universities welcomed students, especially freshers, with open arms and empty sacks emblazoned with dollar signs. The University of Edinburgh owns more property in the city of Edinburgh than the city’s council itself. Of course, they would keep all their halls open and bring freshers to the city.

Students are taking the blame

Everybody’s favourite punching bag for the last six months, the blame once again falls to students. Do I think it’s good that freshers are ignoring rules, partying, and putting people in danger? Of course not. But why was the burden of public health placed on a bunch of 18-year-olds? My decision-making abilities in my first year of uni were at the lowest point they will probably be in my entire life. And a Government scientific advisor literally said: “If your entire [public health] strategy falls down because there’s one student party somewhere in Edinburgh, then its a very weak strategy.” Moreover, surely the responsibility for other people’s safety should be with the people who allowed the freshers back in the first place?

But it’s now our fault and we’re the ones being punished. These punishments have detrimental effects on students’ mental health and have rendered it totally pointless to even live in our uni cities. For one, Scottish students aren’t allowed to mix with other households indoors. This weekend we won’t be able to mix with any household full stop – not even our own families. Again, I’m not saying this is an unnecessary measure given the rise in cases. I’m even one of the lucky ones – I’m a fourth-year who likes her flatmates and has made all her uni friends.

But what about the first years? They’ve just moved to a new city with completely new people, and they’re completely unable to make friends. First-year is lonely in normal circumstances. And now it’s becoming impossibly so. So, universities have communities of lonely, socially deprived first years, and it’s up to their good-natured, law-abiding moral compasses to keep us from getting Covid? Sure, sounds reasonable.

Secondly, barring any students from hospitality venues is downright ridiculous. These restrictions are just going into effect this weekend, but there’s nothing to say they won’t expand or continue. University cities need our money. The University needs our money from its student venues, SUs, cafes and bars. Desperately. Not allowing uni students, a group with a huge amount of disposable income, to patronise local businesses would be economically crippling for an economy that’s already crippled. And really it’s just an excuse for the government to punish students for something that’s their fault.

It’s a parent taking away a toy from a petulant child. Except, they’re the ones who gave us the toy for in the first place (for 50 per cent off for the month of August) and told us to go wild. Then they pushed us back across the country, into close confines with thousands of other young people. Honestly, it’s just a way to make older people feel more comfortable because punishing students makes everyone feel like something is actually happening.

So students are stuck in this crappy situation. Students in Scotland are unable to go home to see their families, and Matt Hancock has threatened to ban students from returning home for Christmas in England. There’s literally no respite. I don’t think we should be allowed to travel all over the place and spread Covid. But might I remind the government that they’re the ones who brought us out to our campuses in the first place? It’s totally unfair to keep us from our families now when they’ve made our lives at uni utterly depressing.

Students and young people are everyone’s favourite group to blame when things go wrong. I meant that. But the truth is, university cities need us. They need our money. Our rent, our pints, our student loans. It’s the only reason they brought us back to our unis in the first place.

Cases are spiking, and measures need to be taken. The number one priority should obviously be the health and safety of the greater community. I’m just fed up of being punished for a situation that could’ve been avoided with some basic foresight.