Major Scottish universities failed to reduce their halls capacity despite Covid risk

Only seven unis reduced capacity

A Disclosure Scotland investigation has found that major Scottish universities maintained their student halls at 100 per cent capacity despite Covid risks.

BBC’s Disclosure Scotland programme found that in light of these halls remaining open, there have been 1,500 positive test results amongst Scottish students, which makes up 10 per cent of cases in Scotland on the whole.

Professor Stephen Reicher, who is an advisor to both the Scottish and UK governments, said the spike in cases was an “accident waiting to happen” and the risks associated with bringing students back to campus were “pretty clear.”

The University of St Andrews, the University of Edinburgh, and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow have admitted to keeping their student halls at full capacity.

Several Scottish universities, including Stirling, Glasgow, and Dundee, either did not answer when asked about their halls capacity or claimed the information was “commercially sensitive.”

Seven universities including Glasgow Caledonian and Robert Gordon University reduced their halls capacity.

Many Scottish universities saw a spike in Covid cases throughout September and October as students came back to university and mixed with each other in halls.

Edinburgh University, for example, saw cases rise in catered accommodation Pollock Halls as early as September 26th.

Glasgow University set up a pop-up testing centre after hundreds of students tested positive across three different accommodations.

The University of St Andrews asked students to participate in a voluntary lockdown after seeing increases in cases in the town and uni community.

Additionally, universities encouraged students to attend university on campus with promises of in-person teaching yet changed guidelines once students had returned.

The University of Edinburgh promised students a hybrid teaching model in June of this year.

The University of St Andrews encouraged students to return to the town for university but then cancelled in-person classes because “too many students were returning.”

Carlo Morelli, a representative of Universities College Union Scotland, said: “If you’re telling students they have to come to campus, then they’re going to have to take up the accommodation that’s offered to them. So the push was from the universities to get students to come and take up their place in accommodation.”

Professor Reicher said students should have been widely tested before being allowed to mix on-campus.

Higher education minister Richard Lochhead said:  “We’ve done our best. I accept we’ll look back on this and think we’ve made mistakes, because we’re all dealing with a very difficult situation, where there are no easy options.”

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