Scottish Labour: Covid inquiry in Scotland must investigate university chaos

Scottish Labour has called on the SNP to ensure that the public Covid-19 inquiry in Scotland investigates  the controversial decision to send students to university campuses during the pandemic on the basis of human rights.

Richard Leonard has demanded that the Holyrood government commit to scrutinising the much-criticised move in a letter sent today to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, mirroring calls from the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

Commenting on his letter and the challenges facing students, the Scottish Labour leader said: “In spite of evidence suggesting that it was not safe, the Scottish government gave universities the green light to bring all students back to campuses.

“Many students have been forced to self-isolate in appalling conditions since then. They have faced shambolically confusing guidance, unacceptable and avoidable anxieties, and a regime of disproportionately punitive rules.

“I have spoken to students in the past few weeks who have said they have felt misled, and that the return to universities should not have happened.

“I welcome the Scottish Human Rights Commission’s call for this decision to be scrutinised by the post-pandemic public inquiry. Today I am calling on the First Minister to commit the inquiry to investigate this on the basis of human rights.”

Leonard asked the Scottish Human Rights Commission last week to investigate potential breaches of students’ human rights following widespread outbreaks of Covid at universities. He raised the following seven areas of concern:

  1. “Students being told not to visit pubs, restaurants or cafes;
  2. “Hundreds of students being forced to self-isolate in unsuitable accommodation;
  3. “Students banned from socialising with anyone outside of their accommodation;
  4. “Students being subject to rules that are different to that of the wider public;
  5. “Announcements made by the Scottish government not acknowledging that many students across Scotland will be only 17 years old;
  6. “Students being required to download test and protect app – unlike any other group in society; and
  7. “The ambiguity of the level and severity of enforcement.”

Following the intervention, the commission responded that questions around whether it was right to send students back to campuses during the coronavirus pandemic “should be scrutinised by any future public inquiry”.

11 Scottish universities have now seen Covid outbreaks in recent weeks. A new cluster of 14 cases, centred around student sports clubs, was identified at Stirling University over the weekend.

The University of Glasgow has seen the largest number of coronavirus cases of any university in Scotland, with at least 172 students testing positive for the virus and hundreds more required to isolate.

Elsewhere in Scotland, there are at least 120 students who have tested positive at Edinburgh Napier University and 84 confirmed cases in Dundee across Abertay University and Dundee University as of last week.

Below is the full text of the letter sent by Richard Leonard to Nicola Sturgeon. 

Dear Nicola,

Last week I wrote to the Scottish Human Rights Commission asking for it to investigate seven areas of concern over potential breaches of the human rights of students, following the recent outbreaks of  Covid-19 in our universities.

These were:

  1. Students being told not to visit pubs, restaurants or cafes.
  2. Hundreds of students being forced to self-isolate in unsuitable accommodation.
  3. Students banned from socialising with anyone outside of their accommodation.
  4. Students being subject to rules that are different to that of the wider public.
  5. Announcements made by the Scottish government not acknowledging that many students across Scotland will be only 17 years old.
  6. Students being required to download test and protect app – unlike any other group in society.
  7. The ambiguity of the level and severity of enforcement.

The SHRC has now replied to me and published a statement on its website which acknowledges “human rights concerns specific to this population group”.

The statement goes on to say: “The commission believes that questions as to whether it was appropriate to allow students, both Scottish and international, to take up places in student residences  at this point in the pandemic, should be scrutinised by any future public inquiry.”

I have welcomed your commitment for the public inquiry into Covid-19 in Scotland to investigate whether the human rights of care home residents have been breached. I am now writing to ask for you to put on the record that this public inquiry will also investigate whether it was appropriate to allow students, both Scottish and international, to take up places in student residences at this point in the pandemic, on the basis of students’ human rights.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Leonard MSP
Leader – Scottish Labour

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