‘I do not feel safe here’- inside Glasgow Uni’s Cairncross House
Students living in Glasgow University’s Cairncross House accommodation have complained of mistreatment during their period of isolation.
The University, meanwhile, has strenuously denied the allegations that students in isolating flats were given inadequate supplies of food and cleaning materials.
Throughout Scotland, the return of students at the start of the academic year in September caused widespread chaos, with the Scottish government bringing in emergency restrictions on students socialising, and even barring them from attending pubs for the weekend of the 25th-27th September.
Both the Scottish government, and the Scottish university sector in general, have been widely criticised for failing to anticipate the problems inevitably caused by thousands of young people moving into shared, close quarter accommodation.
For many students living in halls, this would have been their first experience of moving away from home. Students living with flatmates who had tested positive needed to self-isolate for at least two weeks, meaning that legions of first-year students are spending their first weeks of university life alone.
Our sources - speaking on condition of anonymity - at Cairncross complained of lack of access to appropriate food and cleaning materials, after the weekly professional cleaning of their flat was halted due to the concerns for the safety of cleaning staff.
“The university should have had emergency accommodation set up so that students with Covid do not have to mix with students who do have it. It’s awful that there are high risk people living in halls who have to share a kitchen with people who have tested positive.”
The dangers of sharing communal living space (especially kitchens and bathrooms) with flatmates who had tested positive remains a frightening prospect: in many cases, students would simply avoid using their kitchen for extended periods of time, surviving off food deliveries which would sometimes arrive hours late.
“I know some students who were too afraid to leave their room when they found out that people they were living with had Covid. Nobody left them food, nobody checked in on them to see if they were okay. The university kept saying they were providing us with food but they were not. A few tins of beans, a tin of tuna and a bag of pasta does not cut it.”
These sources report that during a fourteen day period in which all members of their flat were isolating, university accommodation services supplied the flat with one bulk delivery of food supplies, with inadequate options for vegetarians, vegans or those with any other allergy requirements. Sources also complained about the lack of soap and paper towels in shared bathrooms.
Responding to these allegations, Glasgow University said:
“The University offered fresh food to every student in residences on a regular basis, over 10,000 meals in total. In addition to food parcels for those isolating and were in need of emergency supplies, our catering team delivered hot meals and we have provided mobile catering units onsite, again offering a variety of food.”
A spokesperson said that they “did not recognise” the claims that students went without access to cleaning products for extended periods of time, asserting that students were offered “fresh bedding, towels and access to laundry services”.
Students at Cairncross claim that the £50 cashback they were offered for food deliveries takes up to 10 weeks to access through a foreign bank account. In addition, they suggested that the pastoral care for isolating students was inadequate; many found dealing with accommodation services to be “mentally exhausting”.
The phenomenon of tens of thousands of students forced into an involuntary, age-targeted lockdown during their first weeks away from home remains an unprecedented situation, which for many has led to feelings of entrapment.
The mental health implications for the student body in general are not yet clear. Cairncross students pointed out the anxieties of being trapped in a building with nowhere to go, and living with relative strangers whilst the virus ran rampant around them.
Continuing restrictions on students’ ability to visit home will doubtless also have widespread impacts on the mental health of the student body.
Current rules allow, for example, a student studying at Aberdeen University to return home by public transport to their home town of Elgin, as long as they meet their family in a park or a café and then promptly return back to Aberdeen.
The inclusion of students living in private rented accommodation in the restrictions of the 25th September also provoked widespread confusion, as well as concerns about the generalising (and potentially discriminatory) discourse of measures aimed at ‘students’ as a cohesive group.
Following that weekend however, there are now no measures aimed directly and exclusively at students and they are now subject to the same rules as the rest of the population.
Students moving to Scotland from abroad have also raised complaints. One source at Cairncross complained that the university insisted they come to Scotland for in person learning. The situation upon arrival, however, was completely different from how the university had portrayed it. “I feel a bit betrayed. I would rather be at home”.
A spokesperson for Edinburgh UCU said:
“We’ve been clear that we believe asking students to return to campus and conducting face to face teaching poses a significant risk to staff, students, and the community at large. Unfortunately, management has not taken our recommendations, and we are now facing the consequences of that.”
UCU urged that a shift to online learning, where possible, must be encouraged. And that students who wished to return home “must be allowed to do so without financial penalisation”.
If you or someone you know is isolating in student halls and struggling, please contact the Rattlerood editorial team here: firstname.lastname@example.org
For the latest information on students’ right to return home, either permanently or on a short term basis, see here: