Our unfortunate reality this semester is that all classes may stay online and the 2021 graduation ceremony could be cancelled. Sally Mapstone’s most recent email on 28 January stated a final decision regarding the remainder of the semester will take place the week of 8 February. Such emails are sent by the University to provide constant updates on COVID-19 guidelines and changes to campus life. They also regularly post on Facebook and Instagram and update the University website to be as transparent as possible. So why are students still unsure of what’s going on?
The issue is not the University’s lack of communication, but the clarity of their information. The emails sent by Sally Mapstone can only be compared to my old high school essays, 80% fluff and 20% content. Inconsistencies between St Andrews’ COVID-19 policies and those of the Scottish Government force students to question what’s legal. We respect the precautions necessary to protect the health and safety of our friends and family, but it would be great to fully understand what they are.
Also, the University needs to take a hard look at its decision-making. Students recognise uncertainty surrounding the pandemic makes life difficult for University staff, but it might be best to finalise a decision and then fix it when the time comes rather than making us guess what they might do. St Andrews students, many of whom are international, have suffered. We’ve been flying blind this past month, literally and figuratively, and many either regret coming back or regret staying home. Travel plans were cancelled and then rescheduled, students flew to school and then back home, and many feared being stopped at borders because information regarding travel to the UK was so disorganised. All-in-all, it’s frustrating.
One student, Chris Anderson, even took matters into his owns hands and created Mapstone Condensed, a Facebook page that shortens Sally Mapstone’s emails and makes them easier to understand. What started as a joke with his flatmates became a helpful tool for St Andrews students, including myself. When asked if he believes the University can improve its communication of COVID-19 guidelines, he replied:
‘Definitely. Even just since the page [Mapstone Condensed] started up, there’ve been countless mistakes and omissions in the University’s communication of guidelines. The COVID-19 code is obviously useful for some things, but communication about coming back to St Andrews has often been very unclear. I also work at the Asymptomatic Test Centre, and at the start of this semester we had quite a few people coming to get COVID-19 tests when they were supposed to be quarantining. The University’s webpage initially said that all students should get a COVID-19 test as soon as they arrived in St Andrews, when it should have been made clear that quarantine is a legal obligation; that a COVID-19 test does not exempt you from quarantine; and that it’s illegal to leave your house during quarantine, even for a COVID-19 test. I have a lot of respect for the Principal’s office, the University’s Communications Team, and everyone else involved, but there’s still massive room for improvement.’
The purpose of this article is to mention the University’s mistakes and where they can do better. The University can improve their communication of COVID-19 guidelines and ensure that their policies align with those of the Scottish Government. Voicing their decisions with stronger language in emails will prevent confusion among students. It’s necessary that the University learn from its past mistakes, because events seem to repeat themselves. But in the grand scheme of things, Chris mentioned that ‘on an individual level, the University is just a bunch of people trying really hard to make things happen in really awful circumstance.’ Safe to say, he’s right.
The University has corrected their mistakes in some ways. Academic mitigation was reintroduced for the 2020-2021 academic year to help those affected by online classes. Sally Mapstone repeatedly attached links to informative websites in her emails, the most recent being a link directing students to the University’s ‘Return to Teaching Guidance’ and the Scottish Government’s updated FAQs page for students returning to campus. It’s amazing how little aspects like this can make such a large difference.
If you have questions regarding the Scottish Government and the University’s current COVID-19 guidelines, please see the links below! Feel free to also visit Mapstone Condensed at https://www.facebook.com/mapstonecondensed
University of St Andrews COVID-19 information
Scottish Government’s COVID-19 guidelines