Principal cautiously optimistic

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In her letter to University staff and students today (13th), Principal Mapstone  said that that although the virus was still prevalent,  she was determined that it should not define the coming year and expressed optimism that members of the University community would enjoy greater freedoms than over the previous 18 months. She went on to applaud the high vaccination rate amongst students and urged  those that had not completed a full course of vaccinations to do so.

Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear Students and Colleagues,

 Welcome to Martinmas semester, the start of a new academic year in St Andrews, and a term which I fervently hope may be the last in which I have to address you primarily on matters relating to Covid.

 The town is buzzing with life again. Our students and staff are here in greater numbers, and able to exercise greater freedoms, than has been the case at any point in the last 18 months. Although there is a welcome new energy and optimism about the place, we know that the long shadow of the pandemic is still with us. 

 Case numbers and transmission rates in Scotland remain frustratingly high. The Scottish Government has signalled that it may have to consider lockdowns and local firebreaks again if numbers continue to rise to a point which threatens the capacity of the National Health Service.

 We all must hope, and do our part to ensure, that there will be no need for the imposition of further legal restriction, but if it happens, we are prepared, and we will have to cope with it. In this one square mile of north-east Fife, please remember that we are 140 countries. Our lived experiences of the pandemic are different and diverse.

 The advice and instruction we have been given over the summer by our various international governments may contradict that given to the others with whom we are about to share classes, tutorials, labs, offices, and coffee rooms. We come together here, however, as one community. 

 If we are to make the most of this semester, if we are to keep each other safe, and if we are to avoid further lockdowns or restrictions to our way of life, it means being tolerant of each other and our neighbours, respectful of community norms, and accepting of the fact that we must all continue to make some sacrifices for the wellbeing of our University, and the town.

 It means remembering that while we are back in St Andrews in greater numbers than before, there is a small number who still cannot be here at this time, for health reasons, or because of the continuing effects of global travel restrictions. They are as much at the heart of our community as those fortunate enough to have the cobbles on Market Street under their feet once again.

 It means actually knowing and following the St Andrews Covid Code 2021 – created jointly by the University, the St Andrews Students’ Association and the Athletic Union (Saints Sport) – and accepting that we may face consequences if we breach the code, or put others at risk.

 And it means getting vaccinated.  Please have the jab, unless you are advised by your medical practitioner not to do so.  More than any other, this small simple action will save lives, reduce risks, help ensure you enjoy the full vibrancy and creativity of our university, and show the greatest respect to those with whom you work or study. 

 A recent survey of our students revealed that 97% of respondents have had one jab and are awaiting a second, and at least 76% are fully vaccinated. That speaks volumes for the mature and responsible attitude of our student community.

 Last week, the Scottish Parliament voted to make vaccine passports a legal requirement from 1 October for entry to nightclubs and other entertainment venues. We expect this will be a consideration for some events at the Students’ Union, as well as many of our larger, student-organised events. We will work closely with our student representatives and societies under our Can Do programme to ensure these events can take place safely and within the law. 

 I hope, however, that the passport scheme will become an added incentive to all of us to engage with the vaccination programme. Please talk to our Covid Helpdesk team if you have any questions about vaccinations, and how to get the jab in St Andrews.

 Covid may continue to dominate the headlines, but I am determined that after 18 months of this, it should not be the theme that defines our coming year.

 This is one of the United Kingdom’s great universities, some believe it to be our best university. If you study or work here, it is because you are already extremely good at what you do, or have the potential to go even further. St Andrews students and staff led the way in the UK with this University’s creative, safe response to the acute stages of the pandemic. 

 This will necessarily be a semester of transition, one in which we find our way slowly, cautiously, and thoughtfully back to the rhythms of normal life. It is also, however, our chance to show how we can leave a pandemic safely, and demonstrate again the vital, transformative power of teaching, research, and higher education. 

 Sally Mapstone FRSE

Principal and Vice-Chancellor

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