Following the Scottish Government’s announcement (11th November) that they would utilise testing ‘to a certain extent’ for the 60-80,000 students expected to travel home this Christmas, last Wednesday Edinburgh University finally announced plans for rapid, on campus testing. These plans were solidified in an email from deputy secretary of student experience Gavin Douglas yesterday, with testing centres located at the Pleasance Sports Centre and St Leonard’s Land, and students required to book in advance to take two tests, ideally three days apart and between the 30th November and the 9th December.
This booking process, however, was not as simple as the email suggested. In what is perhaps becoming characteristic of Edinburgh’s IT infrastructure (many students are still catching up on work after a University wide outage blocked access to virtually all online content for several hours over the weekend), the booking system was plagued with difficulties, with many students unable successfully to book tests. We spoke to a third-year Business student, who told us: “I’m happy the University are offering tests but the booking system was very stressful, it took me about 10 attempts to get on it and then when I finally went to book a test, it wouldn’t work! I eventually got a booking but still haven’t managed to get a second one.”
Another student compared the process to “trying to book concert tickets for a big-name headliner”, whilst also questioning whether the University had properly anticipated student demand, especially as both the government and the University are ‘strongly recommending’ that students get tested. Just as a lucky few manage to secure Glastonbury tickets each year, other students appeared more successful, but only after several attempts, and with the Pleasance Covid Testing Centre offering a line up somewhat less exciting than Worthy Farm…
EUSA president Ellen MacRae, whilst appreciating the “huge task” that the University faced in setting up the testing system, also acknowledged and sympathised with the “frustration and concern this must’ve caused our students.” In a similar vein, a University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: “It is encouraging to see so many students looking to play their part to stop the spread of Covid-19. However, due to the high volume of initial enquiries, the booking system has experienced temporary technical issues.” We are still waiting on confirmation from the University of how many tests they plan to make available.
It should be noted that the website did acknowledge and apologise for the problems, assuring students that tests were still available, and this appeared to be the case when the booking form was fixed for a short while this afternoon, before becoming inaccessible again. As of the early evening, access to the site appears to remain intermittent, which bears a particular sting considering another email from Gavin Douglas, this time asking students to inform the University of their travel plans. How Douglas expects students to do this when they are unable to book a test is unclear.
Judging by the demand, the majority of Edinburgh students want to do the right thing and protect others this Christmas, and the ability to get a test before travelling plays an important role in this. Not only are students faced with the uncertainty of their test results (and with the prospect of a lengthy isolation period should they be positive) but are now also faced with another unnecessary uncertainty and hassle, leaving many perhaps questioning whether they should bother at all. It seems that, for now at least, our patience is the only thing being tested.