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Caithness mum tells of anxiety facing students in university halls


By Alan Hendry

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Linda Bremner: 'There are lots of kids who have just left Caithness for their first experience of the big city, and look what they've landed in.'
Linda Bremner: 'There are lots of kids who have just left Caithness for their first experience of the big city, and look what they've landed in.'

A Caithness mum has spoken of the anxiety being experienced by students living away from home in university flats, many of whom have effectively been “confined to barracks”.

Students have been caught up in controversy over outbreaks of Covid-19 at halls of residence in some parts of Scotland.

Linda Bremner, of Thrumster, believes the young people have been unfairly criticised and she questions whether the first semester should have gone ahead when it did.

"There's a lot of people affected by this – there are lots of kids who have just left Caithness for their first experience of the big city, and look what they've landed in," she said.

Linda's daughter Sara Malik (18) is studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, having left Wick High School in May. Linda also has another daughter at university – 19-year-old Maree, who is studying nursing at Dundee.

Sara is living in block B of Edinburgh's Brae House accommodation, where there have been no positive tests for the virus, but Linda says there have been cases among students in block A.

Linda (53), a local development officer for a wind farm community benefit fund, said: "It has not been the best start for any of them. 'Anxious' is the best word. They're homesick, they've got anxiety, they're not getting out because they've been asked to not go and socialise."

There has even been speculation over whether students will be able to return home for the festive season.

"I think Christmas is too far into the future to think about," Linda said. "However, in the here and now it really has affected them because they've gone down for the university experience and been confined to barracks, basically.

“For a lot of them it's their first opportunity of being away from home. It's the whole holistic experience of university life. It's going off, meeting new people, making new friends.

“Should they have deferred the first semester? That's the question a lot of people are now asking. And is it financial?”

Linda says most of Sara's tuition is being delivered online.

“She is doing blended studies – she is doing 99 per cent online and she's got one class that she is gong to have to attend," Linda explained. "Currently that one class is still happening but it's a moving feast. The class is still supposed to be taking place.”

The guidance against socialising was issued this past weekend.

“They've not been ordered, but they have been asked not to socialise. That means pretty much staying in your room and staying with the four people in your flat," Linda said.

"She can get out for walks and she has gone out for some shopping but it's straight back in. But they've been asked not to socialise, and I can see why.

I appreciate where we are with the pandemic, but it's such a shame the students have been caught up in it.

“We could have predicted this. It was inevitable, and I don't think the students are to be blamed. You're seeing a lot of negativity towards the students and I think that's really unfair.

"You could blame some of the adults that are in the pubs. We're all individually responsible for our behaviour. It's harsh to pillory them.

“These are worrying times for the children and the families.”

Linda added: “I've had four children off to university, and of those this has been the most challenging time.

"I appreciate where we are with the pandemic, but it's such a shame the students have been caught up in it. It does make you anxious and I think that's the feeling of most of the parents."

Meanwhile, new guidance has been published by the Scottish Government for those living in student households.

Richard Lochhead, the minister for further education, higher education and science, has written to college and university principals and student accommodation provider networks. The guidance has been developed in consultation with the National Union of Students Scotland and Universities Scotland.

Mr Lochhead said: “Our priority is to try and keep people safe from a virus that, even for young people, can do a lot of damage to physical health.

“We would encourage students to remain living in their current accommodation where they are able to, so they can continue to benefit from a blend of digital and in-person learning, where that is possible, and the opportunity to engage with others, within the restrictions, to build new networks and to make new friends.

“However, we know that many students may be struggling with the prospect of not being able to return home to visit family and other support networks, especially if is the first time in their life they have been away from home.

“Knowing what to consider in deciding whether to return home will help support wellbeing and enable students to make informed choices, but it is important to stress that adjusting to life away from home is always challenging.

“I’d like to thank students for playing their role at this very difficult time when they are trying to benefit from further and higher education against a backdrop of a global pandemic.”

Highlands and Islands Students' Association said it believes the escalation of virus cases in Scotland was inevitable and not the fault of students who, it believes, have been unfairly blamed.



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