By Daniella Theis
Strathclyde students and staff share their thoughts on returning to campus as the first week of teaching – many of it face-to-face has begun.
Many Strathclyde students and staff are returning to campus for the first time this week after the steep rise of cases of Covid-19 saw the University of Strathclyde suspend face-to-face teaching in March 2020.
While not all students and staff are returning as some classes are still held online, some concern continues about the effects in-person classes will have on students and staff due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Scotland.
On 22 September 2021, there were 4,024 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Scotland of which 927 were within the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.
Now that the first week of teaching has nearly come to an end, we spoke with students, staff, and members of the Strathclyde University of College Union (UCU) to see what their thoughts on returning to campus are.
‘Excited but apprehensive’
“Excited but apprehensive,” said third-year student Catherine when asked how she is feeling about the return to campus.
She added: “Looking forward to the buzz students create in the city and getting involved in societies again. I was young during my Freshers and I turned 18 right when Covid hit, so being able to now engage in all of the social sides of uni is exciting but scary. As a third-year student I feel like a first-year fresher!
“Excited at the thought of being back in a lecture hall but in reality who knows what will be the case. Everything is still very unknown and although I am happy to be back I’m not sure I’m ready to be right beside others and all thrown together after being apart for so long.”
Another student, who wished to stay anonymous, shared Catherine’s concerns. They said: “I am worried that we might have to shut down campus again like last year.”
Fourth-year student Karen agreed. She said: “I’m looking forward to meeting people in my classes face-to-face and having a bit more of a real on-campus experience. A year and a half of my degree has been spent at home. My only reservations are if we have to lock down again because cases are rising. The higher risk of catching COVID-19, would affect everyone much more if we had to take time off during our final year to recover, in addition to the obvious health implications.”
UCU: ‘The current arrangements are not safe’
“We’re going to have students that are scared but unless they have medical reasons not to come in, the University management will be expecting them to be in that class,” explained a spokesperson of Strathclyde UCU.
They added: “For some students, that’s going to mean they’re immunocompromised and having to put themselves in a risky space or having to come in via bus or train or underground – and we know what those spaces are like – to sit in a lecture hall which may not be properly ventilated. What about a student that lives at home with a mum that has cancer. Are we saying that Strathclyde is not the place for them?
“We are worried about what that will do to the community, but really also what this is going to do to ourselves. We are a bit older than most of the students and a lot of us have caring responsibilities.
“I’m really clear that we are not saying we don’t want to do face-to-face teaching. We are desperate for it. We’re climbing the walls! We’re desperate to get away from sitting on our sofa, hurting our back typing, sitting at our dining table for 14 hours trying to do a piece of work. What we are saying is we want to do this safely, and the current arrangements are not safe.”
Potential for Hybrid Teaching Plans:
A member of teaching staff from the University, who wishes to stay anonymous, has shared with the Strathclyde Telegraph that the option of hybrid teaching plans exist for students but that the option is not to be shared unless requested by students.
They said: “What the University management have said is that if students have health reasons why they can’t attend, they can apply for a hybrid teaching plan. However, staff, are being told that we can’t make the offer. University management have told staff not to proactively make this available. Students have to ask for it rather than us telling them that they can make an application for it. If they don’t know it exists, how are they going to ask for it?”
Changes in face covering guidance:
According to a tweet shared by Strathclyde UCU last week, the University’s ‘Important update to face coverings guidance’ sent on September 15 was in fact a reversal of a previous decision to remove face masks in classroom settings if certain measures were put in place.
A document shared with the Strathclyde Telegraph previously only circulated to staff stated that “face coverings are not required while seated but will be when moving around the room” if partitioning or one metre social distancing is in place, people are positioned so that they are not face to face; and there is appropriate ventilation.
On Twitter, UCU has shared a list of proposals the body thinks should be implemented by the University and also published its own guidance on ventilation at work, while calling the University’s most recent decision regarding a mask mandate “a great victory.”
“We are delighted that the University management has heeded the concerns of our members, and have noted the rising rates of covid within the community,” the UCU Strathclyde spokesperson explained: “We now look forward to collaborating with the University on other important mitigating factors including ensuring that each learning and teaching space of adequately ventilated, that risk assessments are undertaken and that Co2 monitors are in place to ensure that Strathclyde remains safe and secure for all.”
The University’s response:
According to a position statement on University ventilation response, the measures taken to ensure the safety of students and staff include implementing all measures recommended in the Government advice, the adjustment of air-handling units to allow these to operate on full fresh air with no recirculation for 24 hours a day, the assessment of rooms with natural ventilation so that these can be managed in line with Government advice or be removed if unsuitable and re-assessed, continued physical distancing at 1m (with 2m distancing in circulation areas) in rooms, and a capped maximum occupancy of 50 attendees.
The University did not directly respond to questions of whether the mask mandate was a reversal of a previous decision to remove masks in teaching spaces and classrooms, whether they have a response to the requests made by UCU, whether the option of a hybrid teaching plan exists, or why this option was not shared with students.
However, a spokesperson for the University of Strathclyde said: “The safety, health and wellbeing of our community at Strathclyde is of paramount importance and informs every decision we take. This includes adhering to – and in some cases, going further than – the Scottish Government’s Beyond Level Zero baseline measures. Information about the measures we are taking can be found on our COVID-19 information hub https://www.strath.ac.uk/coronavirus/
“There is a wide range of support in place for our students. Anyone with concerns should speak to their programme leader or contact our Student Support team.”
The University’s most recent guidance on the use of face coverings on campus can be found here.