An Open letter – to our friends and neighbours in St Andrews
By Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal of the University
As summer nears its end, I find myself reflecting upon the extraordinary few months that we have shared as a community. We have each made many sacrifices – personally, collectively, and institutionally – and, for a long time, our typically bustling streets became much quieter. The end of our Candlemas semester was a strange time in particular as our graduation celebrations – which usually fill St Andrews’ streets with joyous students and their families – were sorely missed.
After spending this time working from home in St Andrews, as so many of us have done, my team and I are heartened to see our town reinvigorated as public life gradually resumes. Yet despite improvements, we remain far from normality. We must continue to practise vigilance against the Covid-19 virus, both to honour the sacrifices we have each made thus far in our daily lives, and to ensure that the health of every person in our community is protected. St Andrews is a community that only thrives when working in cohesion – when every person cares for and respects one another; we must preserve this consideration and generosity.
Since March, I have been in daily contact with senior politicians, higher education sector representatives, and external stakeholders to inform our response to the Covid-19 pandemic in St Andrews, and to ensure that the contingencies and plans we have developed are founded upon the most authoritative guidance available. In serving on the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Leadership Group for Education – led by the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education, and Science, Richard Lochhead MSP – I have worked to mitigate this crisis’ effects on our University and town by directly contributing to our national response – with our priority being, at all times, to ensure that the virus does not have a resurgence.
These contingencies have been valuably assisted by the outstanding expertise of many brilliant academics from within our community, and by the many staff, students, and residents who have contributed to our response efforts in the town. Throughout lockdown, I have drawn strength from our community spirit, which has never wavered during these uncertain times, but has instead grown stronger through the care and solidarity we have shown in respecting the health of our friends and fellow townsfolk.
The University will shortly welcome a large number of new and returning students to St Andrews. Many of the University buildings that we closed earlier this year are now reopening in preparation for the new semester. However, it will not be university life as they know it. University staff have been working tirelessly over the summer to ensure that the return of our academic community will be as safe as possible, both for the University and for the wider St Andrews community. Our plans include the following:
• Free transport will be provided for all students arriving at Edinburgh Airport, Glasgow Airport, and Leuchars Train Station, to their places of accommodation.
• Covid-19 testing facilities, developed in collaboration with the NHS and Fife Council, will be available to staff, students, and the wider local community.
• A new Covid Rapid Response Team has been established to ensure that we can respond to and support those who may be experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.
• Free accommodation will be provided within University residences for quarantining students.
• New online resources have been developed for students who are self-isolating. The two-week programme we have created consists of online cultural activities, including Orientation Modules and a Countdown to the St Andrews programme, as well as an introduction to the University and the town.
• Dual-mode delivery teaching methods have been implemented which enable us to adhere to government social distancing guidelines.
We have followed the UK Government, Scottish Government, and NHS guidance strictly throughout the pandemic; we will ensure that our entire University community continues so to do. We are communicating the latest guidance to students and staff frequently through multiple channels, focusing in particular on recommendations regarding PPE, social distancing, and behaviour in and around town; we are also providing students with recommendations on how to be a positive and active citizen of St Andrews. I am heartened and reassured by the behaviour of many of the students who lived in town through the lockdown, who, while so doing, volunteered their time and efforts to help and support elderly and vulnerable members of our community.
I recognise that the incoming influx of young people from around the world may be worrying to some members of our community. Hence, I would like us to ensure that we work together to make their return as safe as it can be for all. It is worth remembering that this is a challenging time for students: the final year of school and first year of University form an exciting stage in a young person’s life, while many of our new academic cohort will have seen their final year at high school, its affiliated celebrations – what they may regard to be a ‘typical’ fresher’s experience – taken away from them.
We are committed to holding our students to the highest behavioural standards. They must be respectful of the Scottish Government’s guidance as well as our own; we will not hesitate to act appropriately should we understand that any student or staff member repeatedly fails to follow guidance, or to show respect for our community. We have therefore set up a phone line – 01334 464 146 – and an email address – email@example.com – for residents who wish to share with us any concerns that they may have.
I am immensely grateful for the help and cooperation of the St Andrews community throughout this pandemic, as well as to our staff members who have worked so hard in these difficult circumstances. This continues to be an incredibly challenging time, but I look forward to working with you over the coming weeks and months to ensure that both our town and our University continue to flourish despite the impacts of Covid-19.
Professor Sally Mapstone FRSE
Principal and Vice-Chancellor