Keeping students in accommodation over Christmas holidays ‘risks mental health problems’, says UK university vice-chancellor

Forcing students to stay “cooped up” in their halls over Christmas if there are coronavirus outbreaks is “impractical” and could lead to mental health problems, a university vice-chancellor has said.

Friday, 25th September 2020, 4:58 pm
Updated Friday, 25th September 2020, 6:04 pm

A Government scientific adviser has suggested that students may have to stay in their university accommodation when term ends to ensure the infection does not spread to their older relatives.

But Professor Colin Riordan, president and vice-chancellor at Cardiff University, Scottish politicians and some of Scotland’s student representatives, have warned that the situation could be a difficult one to manage and case a lot of stress.

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A sign saying 'help us, send beer' at Murano Street Student Village in Glasgow, where Glasgow University students are being tested at a pop up test centre picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

"I feel it’s impractical to say to students they need to stay over Christmas if they don’t want to,”said Prof Riordan, “I don’t know how we would enforce that, or where we get the authority to do that, so that would have to be a matter for Welsh Government.

“I really personally hope that we don’t end up in that situation because it would be extremely difficult to handle.

“It would cause an awful lot of stress and you know there’s a potential for mental health problems telling people they have got to be cooped up in their student room over Christmas.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said ministers had been "caught flat-footed" by the return of students to universities.

"Students have been treated shabbily and as second-class citizens," he said. "Last minute, panicked changes to the rules and laws has left students feeling cheated at being trapped in expensive accommodation, unable to go home and with no in-person teaching for months."

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard claimed students are "being punished for the SNP Government's incompetence and lack of foresight".

He said: "Hundreds of students are being forced to remain in cramped student accommodation, and the guidance is as clear as mud, the Scottish Government has serious questions to answer."

The comments come after Sir Mark Walport, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said students may have to remain at university if they become infected at the end of term to prevent them from spreading the infection to other parts of the country and other communities.

University and College Union official in Scotland, Mary Senior, who said it was “astonishing” that students were being blamed for the spread of coronavirus, and that universities should switch to online teaching instead.

Ms Senior said, “That is what the Scottish government should be introducing, not threatening students with red cards and banning them from going out.”

Nearly half of people with mental health issues in Scotland have missed out on care or treatment because of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to new research.

The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) study found 43 percent of people experienced gaps in their care or treatments since lockdown started in March.

It also found the number of people who said they are coping “very or quite badly” has doubled from 23 percent in the months before the pandemic to 45 percent by August.

And it revealed those experiencing thoughts of suicide rose to 59 percent - up by 3 percent on pre-lockdown figures - and, worryingly, one in 10 people had not sought treatment even though they felt they needed it.

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Reporting contributed by PA.