Students and staff at Perth College claim they felt under pressure to return to campus.
The Highlands and Islands Student Association, the student body representing the Fair City institution, said the country’s undergrads were being unfairly blamed for the spread of Covid-19, arguing that the finger should instead be pointed at “those that are putting economics ahead of public health”.
And two members of staff at Perth College – part of the University of Highlands and Islands – have also told The Courier they felt “pressed” to get back to work, questioning the safety of having 700 people on campus at one time.
The college said safeguarding its staff and students was paramount, and insisted that Scottish Government guidelines were being followed.
At the weekend when students were banned from going to – or working at – pubs and restaurants, the Association president, Florence Jansen, spoke out, claiming the escalation of cases in Scotland was bound to happen given decisions made across the sector.
She said: “Many of our students would not have returned to their accommodation if they had not been encouraged to do so by the government, and especially if they thought that they would not be allowed to return home.
“Despite this, our students are doing their very best given the current circumstances, and their welfare is our main priority as always.
“What has to be remember is that students are just normal people.
“They need to follow the guidance like everyone else and are not to blame for the escalation of cases across the country.
“The Scottish Government applying different regulations to students over and above the rest of the adult population is deeply concerning, and the additional guidance is only contributing to confusion over guidelines.
“We need to protect our students and communities now more than ever. Many rely on work in the hospitality industry for their income, and the ongoing challenges of Covid-19 are taking a major toll on students’ mental health and wellbeing.”
The association is now calling for targeted support for students who are isolating and increased mental health aid for those in need.
“If blame is being apportioned it should be to those that are putting economics ahead of public health,” Ms Jansen said.
A staff member at Perth College told The Courier that they and other employees were worried about going back to work.
“I feel that this has reached the stage where staff are being asked to sacrifice their own health and well-being in the name of ‘student support,'” they said.
A college spokeswoman said safety measures on campus include wearing masks and using track and trace where social distancing cannot be guaranteed.
She added: “Whether staff are on campus or continuing to work from home, we appreciate everyone’s continued hard work and support to deliver a good service for our students as we balance face to face teaching and support services alongside our online and remote services.
“Making our students feel welcome and being able to support them to achieve is key to their learning journey and achievements and we strive to support them at every opportunity, while ensuring the safest possible environment.”