As Principal Sally Mapstone’s e-mail on February 10th clearly stated, this semester will continue online. Despite our hopes that we could all come back in March and return to in-person teaching, this will not be happening. The University has taken this difficult decision in an effort to minimize traveling to and from Scotland, thus reducing the potential for transmission. The University has created a detailed webpage answering all questions students may have regarding online teaching and reasons for returning to St Andrews that can be found here. As stated in the FAQs, only a few students studying medicine, science and postgraduate research students are expected to be back by April 5th as remote learning is impossible for them.
For many students still in St Andrews the Principal’s e-mail has prompted a dilemma, whether to stay in town or finish the semester at home. For many struggling with studying at home for a variety of reasons – from not having a comfortable study environment to wellbeing issues – St Andrews offers a second home. In serious cases of wellbeing issues, this can be considered a ‘reasonable excuse’ to return to St Andrews if it can be proven to legal authorities.
Many students have voiced discontent, not only for the lengthy time it took for the University to communicate this decision, but more generally the loss of the semester that students are facing. For many of us, having the semester online has felt as though the semester has not actually happened, leaving us with a sense of emptiness.
Others having voiced the university’s poor preparation and consideration of students needs in online classes as attending mandatory classes is difficult for students living in drastically different time zones than the UK. While some lecturers have offered support in adding additional tutorial times, many students feel that their needs have not been accommodated, forced to either stay up into the late hours of the night or wake up before dawn to attend class.
What’s more is that the online learning simply does not deliver the same quality of teaching that in-person lectures, tutorials and office hours can offer. This has spurred many students to ask for refunds of their tuition, or at the very least increased transparency on the University’s allocation of funds. If these funds are not returned to students, they should in the very least be allocated into hardship funds and student welfare to support students in these tough times.
In addition to this recent announcement by the University, tightened travel restrictions by the Scottish government requiring a 10-day quarantine in a hotel that passengers have to pay themselves makes the prospect of returning to St Andrews extremely difficult and stressful. Furthermore, restrictions on restaurants, pubs, cafes and socialising with other households means that the atmosphere of St Andrews we so love will not be waiting for us if we come back. While this news quashes much of our hopes of returning to St Andrews to enjoy the town, see our friends and interact with our professors in person, at least this offers some certainty. We can only hope that as the months go on, people continue to be vaccinated and this shaky period passes we can all return in September to enjoy all that the University and town have to offer.