Scottish university freshers living in ‘prison-like’ conditions due to strict coronavirus measures

University students have told of conditions where they are surveilled by staff

Strict social distancing measures are in place (Pics: Florence Carr-Jones)
Strict social distancing measures are in place (Pics: Florence Carr-Jones)

Students at a Scottish university have told of ‘prison-like’ conditions that they are living in due to strict coronavirus measures implemented by the establishment.

First-year students living in Edinburgh University’s catered accommodation Pollock Halls have endured being surveilled by staff as they eat alone at single desks at the JMCC cafeteria.

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When the accommodation opened to welcome students back this year several changes had been made to the dining experience. With the on-site bar closed, students must bring their own cutlery with them while hot food is dispersed by staff and cold food is individually packaged.

Students have slammed the conditions at the JMCC cafeteria in Pollock Halls

There is a one-way system in place where students are guided by staff, and then sat alone at a desk typically used for examinations to eat.

Liberty Phelan, a second-year student who lived in the halls last year and editor of the student newspaper which has been covering the issue said: “Before the term began the university announced the changes and how things would be different. Students were told that they would have to sit at tables by themselves but were offered a takeaway option.

“Now they have taken the takeaway option away and I’ve been told that everyone is forced to eat alone and not allowed to get up from their allocated table for more food or water.”

A student who did not wish to be named said that due to the measures in place students have become insecure, self-conscious with some even skipping meals.

A video created by the university shows how the dining area is set up - like an exam hall (Pic: University of Edinburgh)

First year student Florence Carr-Jones added that the dining hall feels like ‘exam invigilators patrolling the space’.

She added that outside of dining times, ‘security guards roam the halls in the evenings knocking on noisy doors, threatening fines and suspensions.’

Liberty added: “There are huge queues to get into the dining hall and staff lead students to tables so you don’t even choose who you sit next to.

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“In the accommodation you’re only allowed one other person in your room, but some people have had parties and the police have been called.”

“I think it is especially hard for freshers and the restrictions make the anxiety of being a first year so much harder for them.”

Students living in university accommodation have reportedly been sent an email which states that a number of illegal gatherings had been reported at Pollock Halls and Kincaid’s Court, and that the police were required to intervene on several occasions when students refused staff’s requests to disperse.

It added that students who break the rules can be suspended from the university.

A University spokesperson said: “We are working hard to ensure all of our new and returning students are aware of the importance of following Scottish Government guidelines - both on and off campus - to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

“As well as our Student Code of Conduct, we have created a Good Citizen Guide, which sets out clear guidelines for our community during this time.

“Our on-site Residence Life team are regularly promoting Covid-19 safety messages and challenging any inappropriate behaviour. While the vast majority of our students are observing the rules, if a student is found to be intentionally or repeatedly failing to comply with safety measures, they will face appropriate action.”

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In a tweet sent on Saturday the university added: “We know this is difficult and appreciate that you want to meet friends but this is a critical time and your behaviour matters.”

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