Hundreds of students from Dumfries and Galloway could end up dropping out of their further education courses because of the Scottish Government’s incompetent handling over the return to university and colleges, South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has warned.

Due to its rural location, most students from Dumfries and Galloway live away from home when they enter higher education, as commuting back and forth to universities and colleges in the central belt is unfeasible.

In the past week, students have been caught up in a spate of Covid-19 outbreaks in university halls of residents across the country, leading Colin Smyth to question why these accommodations were fully opened in the first place instead of an emphasis on more online learning.

After hundreds of positive cases, students – many of whom are just 18 or even younger – were told by the Scottish Government that they couldn’t return home to their parents or carers due to rules about household mixing.

Following public outcry, more confusing guidance was issued to students by Scottish ministers on Monday, this time saying they can return home if they have a “reasonable excuse” such as a family emergency but they are still encouraged to remain where they are.

Colin Smyth has praised the SRUC for its innovative approach to student accommodation. The college said it is operating on a basis of 10-20% capacity, rather than assuming 100% capacity. In line with that, they have introduced a new policy of ‘pay as you go’, where students can book a room in its residences for only those nights that they need to support their on-campus teaching.

Colin Smyth said: “The lack of foresight shown by the Scottish Government continues unabated and this time it is our students who are paying the price.

“I fear we will see hundreds of students from Dumfries and Galloway dropping out of their higher education courses because the vast majority have to live on or near campus due to the rural nature of our region. It is virtually impossible for students to commute to universities and colleges in the central belt from this area.

“The constant barrage of confusing and contradictory information our students are being bombarded with will inevitably lead to some deciding that they just want to come home and the only way they’ll feel safe to do this is to drop out of their courses. You only need to look at the innovative approach from SRUC to see that dumping thousands of students into halls of residence full time wasn’t the only answer. A more gradual return to classes, with more emphasis on online learning, should have been the norm until it was safe to return fully to campuses.

“We should also bear in mind that these are the same young people who had to live through the Scottish Government’s exam results debacle and I can understand why many will be thinking that enough is enough.

“Young people at the start of their adult lives shouldn’t be forced to leave education because of the mistakes made by the Scottish Government. It is a complete travesty and could have a serious impact on the lives of these young people for years to come.”

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