Responding to the rising positive cases of COVID-19 in higher education, Professor Gerry McCormac, Convener of Universities Scotland, said:
“There have been a number of positive cases of coronavirus linked to universities. We understand that this is concerning for the students, their loved ones and our wider communities so it is important to be clear, that the cases have been identified early, all students concerned are being supported to isolate by their institutions and, that universities’ outbreak management plans are in place and working effectively with local health protection teams.
“Universities are taking a very robust and cautious approach in the way they have started the academic year. There is meticulous application of the higher education guidelines by every university around the country and universities’ plans for the academic year have been developed and scrutinised by Scottish Government and public health experts. Close collaboration with Government and agencies continues. Testing is key and experience over recent days has shown that the walk-through test centres, created to enable more accessible and quicker testing close to university communities, has supported rapid identification of positive cases and helped containment.
“There has been no evidence that the positive cases in universities are linked to in-person teaching, which is a very tightly controlled environment. So far, the tracing process suggests that, just with the wider population, transmission is occurring in student residences, where students have been mixing households in breach of the rules. In the case of the first institutions to be affected, their experience is that the number of cases is now plateauing and that speaks to successful containment.
“We need every member of the university community to adhere to the rules and act in ways that keep themselves and each other safe. The exceptions make the news, but universities are reporting high levels of compliance with the requirements on physical distancing, hygiene measures and socialisation within the rules on households. We want to thank those students and reaffirm the continued need for this.
“We believe that it is very important, after experiencing months of disruption, that university students get the chance to continue their education. Some element of in-person contact with teaching and support staff is important to both student wellbeing and a satisfying educational experience. This will vary institution to institution and course to course, as appropriate, and this is the reason that the guidance for universities around “blended learning” cannot be as prescriptive as the guidance created for schools.
“We strongly agree with the Scottish Government’s view that access to education, at all levels, should be one of the priorities, second to public health, as we all seek to manage this pandemic and continue our lives as constructively as possible. Universities will continue to work very closely with the Scottish Government and public health experts, as we have done for the last six months and will adapt, as needed, to changing guidelines and restrictions in the interests of keeping all of our communities safe.”