Preventing spread of coronavirus in universities

Following the outbreak of positive cases of coronavirus in student accommodation in parts of Scotland, university Principals met with the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Richard Lochhead, to discuss what further measures and messages could be emphasised to stop the spread of the virus.

A set of FAQs has been developed to clarify some of the measures and to provide further information on what is being asked of students. The FAQs can be viewed here.

Commenting after the meeting, Convener of Universities Scotland, Professor Gerry McCormac said:

University leaders share the Scottish Government’s complete commitment to keeping the student population and the wider community safe.  We have already implemented strict measures to ensure the safety of the university environment, both for teaching and for student residences. We have seen the majority of students live up to our expectations of responsible behaviour, but a minority have not.  Everyone across the nation shares the concern at seeing students in residences test positive for the virus and we will act decisively to deal with this.

 “The additional actions we will take to drive down the transmission of the virus in student accommodation build on the wide-ranging measures already agreed with Scottish Government. Taken together, we are confident that these will help significantly to control the virus in student accommodation and impact on the number of positive cases; after the inevitable time-lag caused by some existing cases not yet being symptomatic.

 “Our top priority to making sure that students that have tested positive and those quarantining are well-supported and ready to return to their studies. We appreciate this isn’t what students would have expected from their first few weeks at university, but it is critical that they play their part in suppressing the virus.

The Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Richard Lochhead MSP, said:

“This is a welcome package of additional actions, building on the clear guidance that is already in place,  to support all students and staff adhere to the rules and stay safe as they make a welcome return to study. We expect everyone to comply with public health advice and, as new laws come into force tomorrow, it’s even more important institutions make every effort to ensure the rules are understood and followed – and appropriate actions are taken if not. We know that these are difficult times for many students and we are grateful to them for the sacrifices they are making to protect themselves, their fellow students and the wider community.”

Universities have agreed that:

  • All universities will make absolutely clear to students that there must be no parties, and no socialising outside their households – communicating and reinforcing these messages on a regular basis using our full range of media channels. Breaches will not be tolerated.
  • This weekend, the first of the new tighter Scottish Government guidance, we will require students to avoid all socialising outside of their households and outside of their accommodation. We will ask them not to go to bars or other hospitality venues.  We will be clear that this is a necessary step at this crucial moment of managing the virus in the student population, to protect students and the wider community.
  • We will increase the staff presence in student accommodation, to be vigilant against any breaches of guidance and also to offer welfare and practical support to students who are experiencing isolation.
  • We will engage further with private providers of student accommodation, especially those with significant numbers of bedspaces, to follow our lead and strictly enforce guidance.
  • We will intensify our institutions’ liaison with Police Scotland, to ensure vigilance about student behaviour off-campus and in private accommodation.
  • We will take a strict ‘Yellow Card/Red Card’ approach to breaches of student discipline that put students and others at risk. While we first want to advise students about breaches of discipline, we will not hesitate to escalate this to disciplinary action including potential discontinuation of study.
  • We will commit to further agile staff responses to immediately respond to cases, to help manage the pressures on the public health authorities.
  • We will require all students to download the Protect Scotland app.

Taking forward these actions we will work very closely with the students’ association of each institution.

Every student who needs a test is able to get one. To further develop the testing system we will continue to work closely with the Scottish and UK Governments on the roll-out of walk-through testing centres in major centres of student population. Where these have been established, they have been a great help to having fast and accessible testing and quick action to contain the spread of the virus.  We will are also in discussion with the UK and Scottish Governments about increased availability of home testing in universities.