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Principal’s Candlemas message

Professor Sally Mapstone, the Principle and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews.

Dear Students and Colleagues

As our Candlemas semester begins, I am writing with an update on recent developments, and arrangements for the term ahead.

Scottish Government guidance and laws on return to universities

The Scottish Government has updated its guidance to students on returning to campus, and published a new set of FAQs. These repeat and reinforce the existing rules around returning to St Andrews which are set out in our Return to Teaching guidance, and with which you should already be familiar.

There is one amendment to previously issued guidance for students. If you have left books or material in St Andrews which are critical to your study and which you cannot access in any other way, you may return to your term-time accommodation for a one-off exceptional visit to collect those materials. This exemption for travel also applies to medical supplies which you cannot access in any other way.

This may particularly help students with private accommodation who have no other means of accessing critical materials which they have left in St Andrews. If you are a resident in one of our Halls or other directly managed properties, however, you do not need to return to collect materials. We will arrange to pick these up from your room and send them to you if you wish. Please contact your residence for more information about this service, or read our Accommodation FAQs for details.

Resumption of in-person teaching

I am extremely sorry that we have been unable to offer so many of our students a traditional welcome back to St Andrews at the start of this semester. The town is abnormally still, but those of us who remain here would swap peace and quiet in a heartbeat for your safe return.

We remain in daily discussions with the Scottish Government and, as promised, will make a decision about the remainder of our semester in the week beginning 8 February. We want to keep your options open for as long as possible, but also offer certainty and clarity to both students and staff about arrangements for the rest of this term.

That is a very difficult calculation, and I know from my conversations and exchanges with many students and colleagues how disappointed you are to have continued disruption to your lives and university experience, and how you long for a return to St Andrews, and old freedoms.

As I write however, the UK has just recorded its 100,000th death from coronavirus. We are all now in the business of saving lives, and the disruption to our usual ways of working is a small sacrifice set against the incalculable scale of the personal tragedies hidden in that one statistic.

Academic mitigation 2020-2021

The Vice-Principal (Education), Professor Clare Peddie, has written to all students this week setting out the steps we will take to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the ability to study effectively.

These arrangements are broadly similar to the steps we took last year. General measures relating to assessment include:

  • assessment and exam formats have been reviewed, and modified in some cases, including replacing exams with additional coursework.
  • guidance has been issued to staff involved in assessment reminding them to make fair allowance for format changes.
  • overall module results will be analysed against the historic record in order to identify anomalies, and appropriate adjustments made if necessary.

The further measures relating to entry to Honours and degree classification are also similar to those in 2019-20. Details are published online. Please take the time to read through this information carefully as it aims to offer reassurance as we all go into the new semester, and also outlines the limits of the measures in place.

Student hardship

I know that many students have faced additional hardship as a result of the pandemic, for a range of reasons, not least because term time work and employment opportunities have vanished. We have a range of funds to help our students in hardship, and this week the Scottish Government announced it would allocate an additional £20 million across Scotland to mitigate student hardship. If you’re a student worried about money please talk to our Money Advisers in Student Services. They can help with support, expert advice and access to a range of funding if necessary.

Looking out for each other

One year ago this weekend, the UK confirmed its first cases of coronavirus – two people at the University of York – and my Principal’s Office colleagues and I exchanged a series of rather solemn messages that Sunday, in the realisation that this thing was about to change all our lives, despite the confident noises coming from Government.

We are now almost used to the lurches in policy and guidance as governments shift gear to meet the latest twists in Covid’s evolution, but although the vaccines promise an end in distant sight, I know that the continued burdens on many of you are significant.

The First Minister’s announcement last week that schools will not reopen in Scotland before mid-February will have caused some disappointment and anxiety among many of our staff and students with children. The UK Government has just announced that English schools will not return before 8 March.

I acknowledge the strain that many of you are under in these circumstances. Everything that you are able to do is valued and appreciated.

We have this week encouraged our Heads of School and Professional Service units (who are under considerable stress themselves) to be creative about finding solutions to the challenges faced by staff. It is ok to put non-critical work on hold, and to look at redistributing work so that each task can be undertaken by someone whose situation best allows it.

Above all, please look out for each other if you can. That little square on Teams says nothing about what may be going on in another person’s life, whether they are your colleague, your classmate, or your tutor. If you are feeling the strain of work or distant study, so are they. Sometimes small acts of kindness and understanding can make all the difference.

This week some 1300 of our students, staff, alumni and their families, from right across the world, participated in a joyous and supportive virtual Burns Night celebration. If you missed it, you may enjoy accessing it on YouTube. The strength of the St Andrews community is so vital at this time, and it will help see us through.

I will write to you all again shortly with an update on our planning, as promised.

Sally Mapstone
Principal and Vice-Chancellor


Principal Professor Sally Mapstone sent this message to all staff and students on 28 January 2021.

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