Colleges and universities preparing for phased return

Scotland’s colleges and universities are gearing up for a phased campus return for the next academic year as COVID-19 lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted.

When institutions suspended face-to-face teaching in March to protect staff and students, they were able to quickly switch to online teaching and assessment, providing students with equipment to access online learning.

Under the Scottish Government’s route map through and out of the coronavirus crisis, the third phase would see universities and colleges return next term with most planning for an initial combination of digital and blended learning with public health measures, including physical distancing in place.

Any changes to the approach outlined in the Scottish Government’s Route Map will be evidence based, with the safety of students and staff being of paramount importance.

Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science Richard Lochhead has written to the country’s college and university principals outlining the measures and changes related to their institutions, as they prepare over the summer to welcome domestic and international students.

Mr Lochhead said:

“I am immensely proud of the huge contribution our colleges and universities, their staff and students have been making in the fight against this global pandemic, and their efforts to adapt so quickly.

“They have demonstrated their substantial contribution to the national response, for example supporting COVID-19 research and testing, donating personal protective equipment, and students and staff volunteering for front line roles in health and social care. This shows an impressive collective ability to step up to these unprecedented challenges.

“Preparations are now underway for Scotland’s colleges and universities to have a phased campus return in the new academic year, with the safety of students and staff of paramount importance.

“Scotland is an innovative country and the response of our colleges and universities to deliver a quality experience for their students by continuing to deliver learning and teaching and ensuring that as many of our learners as possible obtain their qualifications will demonstrate this. While next year will undoubtedly be different, studying with our institutions will continue to be world class, attracting students from across the globe, and anyone thinking about studying in Scotland should apply without delay.”

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said:

“Face-to-face college teaching was suspended in March across all college sites in line with Scottish Government COVID-19 lockdown advice, but they remained very much open by quickly moving to delivering online and remote learning and teaching.

“Recruitment and application processes for the next academic year in the college sector are already underway, and a college forum has been established to explore how best our colleges can deliver for their learners and staff, including developing the curriculum to be delivered effectively online and remotely.

“We will continue to be guided by the latest public health advice – as the overarching priority is the safety and wellbeing of students and staff in the sector – and it is initially likely there will be a blended approach with both onsite and digital learning.  While the timing and specific nature of current restrictions being eased is not yet defined, we will be prepared across the country for the new academic term and our new and continuing students.”

Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland, said:

“Universities are working hard to adapt their arrangements so they can continue to offer students a high quality learning experience and wide range of support services in the autumn. Universities have sought to keep their students safe and informed throughout the pandemic and have stayed in touch with offer holders. Universities will confirm their individual start dates for next year as soon as possible; some have already done so.

“Next term’s teaching will include a flexible blend of digital learning and safe on-campus provision. Universities are drawing on their years of experience of different approaches to teaching to ensure this meets learners’ needs and continues to deliver the high quality learning for which they are renowned.

“Scotland’s universities have long been a beacon for students from all over the world and that is still an important part of who we are as a country. The Scottish Government will be working closely with the university sector to ensure that remains the case.”

Further information

The document, Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making – Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis, published 21 May 2020, sets out the route by which the Scottish Government aims to ease the current lockdown restrictions.

The measures and changes of particular interest to colleges and university include:

  • in phase 3, plans for a phased return for colleges and universities, with a blended model. Public health measures including physical distancing will be in place.
  • in phase 4, college and university campuses would be fully open – including key student services – with any necessary precautions.