“Students not only bring life to our city but it is also extremely likely your own dentist was educated here.“
This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 05/09/2020
To some, students are tax-dodging, shower-avoiding, noise-making agitators of peace and civility yet Dundee has become an educational magnet and global pioneer in several fields including biomedical science, creative arts, computer games and cyber-security with specific institutions supporting each of these areas. Students not only bring life and vitality to our city but their long-term economic utility is astronomical and there is a high chance even your own dentist or GP was educated here.
Between meetings last week, I walked past and read all the messages emblazoned on windows at the Parker House halls of residence in Dundee city centre where, at that point, there were 74 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 500 students in lockdown. Some conveyed a stoic student-like sense of humour, a few made requests for beer, cider and marijuana but others were more sobering. Messages like: “Let us out” and “Let us go home for Christmas” were visible. Several others simply said: “Help”.
Last week, Dundee University rector Jim Spence wrote: “Universities are meant to liberate minds not imprison bodies.” The Scottish Government discourages students from returning home but more strict advice has already been issued by universities such as Abertay in Dundee, which states: “We will now take a strict ‘Yellow Card / Red Card’ approach to breaches of student discipline that put students and others at risk.” It encourages students to report any inappropriate “Covid-related behaviour”.
Last week, I met with 24-year-old Abertay student Zoe Salmond, who recently moved to Dundee to study Sociology. She said: “I felt I outgrew my hometown of Montrose and wanted to spread my wings and live where I was studying.” However, having taken ownership of and uprooted her life, she now feels her decision-making capacity has been stripped away and is now mapped out in Scottish Government guidance entitled: ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you can and cannot do’.
Zoe, who lives alone in the Hilltown, says: “Morale is very low among students right now.” She adds: “Even our lecturers are frustrated. They have to seek management approval to be on site when they are not delivering a lecture.” Zoe also suffers from bouts of anxiety and adds: “We are moving into winter when it is cold and dark and it will be especially challenging for people, like me, who live alone.” She says: “I have ups and downs. How long can we just be expected to survive alone without support?”
Guidance also prevents students from frequenting pubs, in which a number of them are employed. Zoe, who has not lived with her parents since she was 18, said: “Much of the guidance reads as if it is being communicated to children but there is a mature student on my course who is 65 years old and it says he cannot even take his wife out for a meal.” Students studying Stalinism may see some parallels.