Principal’s Covid message
In an email to all staff and students today (Friday 8 January), University of St Andrews Principal, Professor Sally Mapstone, said:
I am writing today, as promised, to update you on our plans for teaching in St Andrews in Semester 2, in the face of the rapid spread of the new and highly transmissible variant of Covid, and the strict new lockdown which the Scottish Government introduced this week.
The First Minister of Scotland has this afternoon confirmed that for the vast majority of students, there will be no in-person teaching at universities at least until March 2021.
The only exceptions to this at St Andrews will be students in the School of Medicine on the BSc Medicine and ScotGem programmes, who are designated key workers, and a small number of students whose course requirements mean that remote learning is impossible. We are awaiting clarification from the Scottish Government on these categories, and will update you as soon as we have that.
Our semester will begin as planned on 25 January, but in-line with Government instructions, all teaching must be remotely online.
For students, this means that if you are not a medic, you should remain at home and should not make plans to travel back to St Andrews until we confirm that in-person teaching is due to resume on your course.
Although the Scottish Government has said it will be at least March before students are allowed to return to university campuses, we think it is prudent to advise you that it may be even later than that before in-person teaching is permitted to resume.
Students should also be aware that travelling back to university during lockdown simply to take up your place in term-time accommodation is no longer permitted under the new Government restrictions, unless in-person teaching is about to resume on your course.
If you are already here or en route to St Andrews you do not have to change your plans however. We will do our best to look after you.
We have published more detail for students on these new arrangements, and our revised plans for Semester 2.
Please consult this new information carefully. We will update this page as and when guidance changes.
We know that students are not a homogenous group, and in this new guidance we have tried to take account of the many different circumstances and needs across our undergraduate and postgraduate communities.
Let me stress that these new restrictions are not because our classrooms or the University more generally are unsafe. Far from it. We know from last semester that our classrooms are a safe, fully risk-assessed environment for teaching, and that there has not been a single instance of Covid being transmitted in class, laboratory, or any other educational setting.
Living, working, and studying at our universities is not dangerous, but the Government is clear that taking decisions which cause or allow large numbers of people to travel and change households increases the risk that Covid spreads further faster.
Governments have to respond to rapidly changing circumstances. The sudden announcement this morning by the UK and Scottish administrations that all international travelers to the UK must have a negative Covid test result before they can enter the country is indicative of how fluid and unpredictable the national management of this crisis has become.
This new law will clearly apply to all of our overseas students, and news reports this morning indicate it may be in force from next week. We are attempting to get as much detail as possible from governments, and will update you further as soon as we can.
The Scottish Government has said that international students who have already booked travel back to Scotland do not have to cancel those arrangements, but should be aware of the lockdown restrictions now in force here.
The new lockdown is as unwelcome an instance of déjà-vu as it is possible to imagine, but the big difference this time is that we know it is finite. Vaccines are on their way, even if we will be living with restrictions through and beyond the period of public immunisation.
The more we can do now as an institution, as individuals, and as one community to get behind the international push to suppress transmission, the faster we can return to the freedoms and student and staff experience which we prize so highly.
As I write, Covid remains a relative rarity in St Andrews and North-East Fife, although levels are high elsewhere in the Kingdom. That is not simply good fortune. We did a fantastic job last semester of working together to keep our community safe.
I know it is asking a lot of many of you to go through the same again, particularly when your personal and family lives are impacted by the other serious consequences of lockdown, and the disruption that it brings.
I recognise the huge disappointment our students will feel at the Government’s announcement today, and I am very sensitive to the pressure on families and parents with children now trying to balance work with the concentration and commitment required for caring and home schooling.
The lessons we learned last Spring however make us stronger and better able to support each other through these next difficult weeks.
I will write to you all again soon to update you on our ongoing dialogue with the Scottish Government, and some of the specific arrangements we will be making to support our students and staff.
Separate communications in respect of research, building openings, and extra-curricular provision will be issued and published as relevant through the Principal’s Office.
For now however, please stay at home.
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
Email from University Principal Professor Sally Mapstone to all staff and students on Friday 8 January 2021.