Glasgow University is to refund one month’s rent to students in halls of residence as compensation after hundreds were forced to self-isolate following an outbreak of coronavirus.
Students, many of whom are living away from home for the first time, have been told they cannot visit their families, and are banned from going to pubs and restaurants over the weekend, after 124 cases of new infections were reported on Thursday.
Following criticism of the lack of support given to those isolating, the university said it would refund rent, make a £50 food payment to students and initiate more drop-ins from student support staff.
The number of food parcels for those self-isolating will also increase, along with cleaning materials, bedding and towels. A test centre was established at the Murano Street halls of residence, which houses more than 1,000 students.
The return of students to campuses across Scotland – where the academic year starts earlier than much of the UK – has seen a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases, leading to the Scottish government and Universities Scotland to request they do not socialise in hospitality venues this weekend.
Outbreaks have hit 23 universities across the UK, forcing thousands of students into self-isolation. In Manchester, 1,700 students are being placed in quarantine for a fortnight at halls of residence at Birley and All Saints Park, in a joint move by the local authority, the university and Public Health England.
Glasgow University principal Prof Anton Muscatelli said: “I hear the concerns of our students in residences and I appreciate how difficult this situation is for them. From today, we are rolling out significant extra support measures so they can more easily access food, health and wellbeing and other supplies.
“We are offering everyone in our residences, regardless of whether they are isolating or not, a one-month rent refund to compensate for the disruption they are facing, and any financial hardship they may have encountered.”
He thanked those who were in self-isolation for “playing their part”, adding: “Our living support team are also stepping up efforts to proactively contact students, check on their wellbeing and offer support.
“To make sure everyone has access to hot and fresh food, we will work with providers to install mobile catering units and give £50 to each student for food and supplies. This isn’t the start of academic life we would wish for anyone.”
Earlier this week, some students criticised the university for bringing them back, given that so much learning has already moved online.
Lucy Owens, a student living in the Murano complex and who has coronavirus, told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “What are we paying for? I could do everything I am doing from my house, so why have they sent us here?…
“Putting 2,000 students into such a confined area, something like this was bound to happen.”
On Friday, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, apologised to students for the start of their academic year, but supported universities to take action against those breaking the rules “as a last resort”.
The union representing academics and staff has called for face-to-face teaching at universities to be halted until the government fixes test-and-trace failures and curbs the spread of the virus.