Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): universities, colleges and student accommodation providers

Published: 11 Sep 2020
Last updated: 24 Sep 2020 - see all updates

Guidance for higher and further education institutions and student accommodation providers to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19): universities, colleges and student accommodation providers
Health and safety

Health and safety

In aligning with the principles and planning, this guidance does not supersede existing health and safety legislation and institutions and providers will continue to abide by these obligations, including the legal duty on employers to conduct risk assessments and engage with health and safety committees (SRSC).

Specifically on COVID-19 and through all phases of emerging from lockdown, institutions and providers will have regard to general health and safety guidance and to the requirements for reporting cases.

Employers must ensure that the risks are controlled so far as is reasonably practicable. All employers need to carry out an appropriate COVID-19 risk assessment, as they would for other health and safety related hazards. This is a risk-led approach to identify and implement sensible measures to control the risks. The assessment should consider what measures need to be implemented to protect the health and safety of all staff, students, visitors and contractors. These will be influenced by site-specific factors. See: further advice on carrying out COVID-19 risk assessments.

Controls should be considered following the hierarchy of control approach. Outcomes should explain to others what they are required to do and help staff with planning and monitoring to ensure the controls are implemented and remain effective and are updated in the light of emerging evidence or changes in public health advice.

Public health measures

To stay safe and protect others we must minimise the opportunity for Coronavirus (COVID-19) to spread from one person to another. Physical distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene are the most important and effective things we can all do to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Essential public health measures in institutions and student accommodation include:

  • minimising contact with others (physical distancing, quarantine, groupings)
  • enhanced hygiene and environmental cleaning arrangements
  • wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary
  • a requirement that people who are ill, self-isolating or under an obligation to quarantine stay at home
  • active engagement with Test and Protect

Institutions and providers should encourage staff, students and visitors to follow the Scottish Government’s FACTS advice:

  • face coverings in enclosed spaces
  • avoid crowded places
  • clean your hands and surfaces regularly
  • 2m physical distancing
  • self-isolate and book a test if you develop coronavirus symptoms

Minimising contact with others

Physical distancing

Physical distancing duties are set out in regulation 5(1) of The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020.

From 22 July, colleges and universities have been able to commence a phased return to on campus learning as part of a blended (or ‘hybrid’) model with some remote teaching.

This blended model will continue. Staff and students will be on campus albeit less frequently and in lower numbers than before the virus.

Institutions should continue to make reasonable efforts to facilitate working and studying remotely. Staff and students can expect to spend time working or studying from home. This will not always be possible and, where that is the case, public health measures (including physical distancing) must be in place.

All reasonable measures must be taken to implement physical distancing (currently 2m) in all relevant areas of universities, colleges and student accommodation. In planning for physical distancing, institutions and providers will adopt the procedures set out in COVID-19 information and guidance for non-healthcare settings.

Physical distancing rules must be followed in all parts of the college or university campus, including outdoor areas, entrances and exits, break rooms, canteens and similar settings. Institutions and providers will take a risk-based approach and put in place measures to manage brief interactions within 2m which cannot reasonably be avoided, such as limited numbers of people passing each other in corridors.

Where physical distancing cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, such activity should continue only if it is essential or in line with the appropriate guidance, for example, in relation to pubs and bars. Appropriate mitigating actions should be taken to reduce the risk of transmission.

Institutions and providers should ensure they have plans in place for:

  • the use of space by staff and students to ensure adherence to physical distancing guidance. This will be determined by a variety of factors including the dimensions and layout of buildings and the requirements of different disciplines
  • discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and sites
  • the use of clear, appropriate signage across campuses which reinforces expectations of staff and students at relevant points
  • workstations having a clear marking of physical distancing boundaries
  • physical adjustments such as the use of perspex shields at tills, reception and other service points
  • one-way systems or other special controls on access to constrained spaces such as toilets and changing rooms while adhering to social physical distancing guidance
  • other measures such as adjusted/staggered working times, shifts, timetabling and part-time arrangements on campus to minimise the numbers of staff and students on campus and in specific buildings at any one time
  • considering opportunities to introduce technology and systems to aid safe working practices and in particular physical distancing
  • communicating with visitors prior to arrival and on arrival to ensure visitors understand physical distancing and hygiene measures
  • reducing maximum occupancy for lifts, to allow for physical distancing,
  • providing hand sanitiser for the operation of lifts and encouraging use of stairs
  • making sure that people who are disabled are able to access lifts whilst maintaining physical distancing measures
  • regulating use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts, turnstiles and walkways to maintain physical distancing.

Bars and catering facilities should comply with national guidance for indoor hospitality while leisure facilities should comply with national guidance for leisure facilities. 2m physical distancing must be maintained throughout all other areas of college and university campuses. 

From Friday, 25th September, hospitality settings, such as pubs, bars and restaurants must close at 10pm. This includes hospitality settings in college and university campuses.

International arrivals and requirement to quarantine

Institutions and providers must ensure that students arriving from outside Scotland (including from the rest of the UK) are provided with clear and detailed information on Scottish COVID regulations (including any local restrictions) and guidance and understand that these may differ from regulations that exist in the student’s home area. Institutions and providers must also ensure that students arriving from other parts of Scotland are provided with clear information on any local Coronavirus restrictions or guidance.

Staff and students must comply with guidance for residents or visitors travelling to the UK. Those travelling from a country not exempt from quarantine requirements must complete a passenger locator form and self-isolate for 14 days. Students and staff who are travelling to and from Scotland should check the Scottish Government website for the latest advice.

Institutions and providers must make clear to staff and students, ahead of and on their arrival in Scotland, that this is a legal requirement and it is essential they comply.

Colleges and universities must take active steps to ensure that quarantine arrangements are complied with.

People who are self-isolating must stay away from others, not go out to work or college or university or visit public areas. They should self-isolate in one place for the full 14 days. This must be at the address they provided on the passenger locator form.

For students, this can include:

  • the student’s own home or accommodation
  • staying with friends or family
  • a hotel or other temporary accommodation

People who are self-isolating can have food and other necessities delivered. They should not have visitors, including friends and family, unless they are providing essential care. The only friends and family they can have contact with are those they travelled with or people they are staying with. There are limited circumstances where people who are self-isolating can leave their accommodation including for medical assistance or for access to basic necessities.

Institutions and providers should ensure students who are self-isolating have appropriate support, for example access to food and other necessities, and to safeguard their health and wellbeing.

Institutions and providers must ensure all students are informed of the guidance and risk of asymptomatic transmission from members of their household who are quarantining and what to do if they develop symptoms. The most common symptoms are:

  • new continuous cough
  • fever/high temperature
  • loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste (anosmia)

Institutions, providers and students should follow public health guidance if someone becomes unwell with coronavirus symptoms on their premises. The person should self-isolate straight away.

Colleges and universities must have appropriate disciplinary arrangements in place should staff or students fail to comply with the law on quarantine, in addition to existing legal penalties in Scotland. If failure to quarantine has created a risk of a localised outbreak, colleges or universities should take advice from their NHS Health Protection Team (see section on outbreak management). We expect non-compliance to be treated as a serious breach in terms of disciplinary procedures. Sanctions will be determined on a case by case basis but it must be clear that they include the full weight of the disciplinary procedures.

The police have special enforcement powers under the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Regulations 2020. Where the police have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person has breached a requirement to quarantine under the Regulations, they may return that individual to the place where they are staying or remove the individual to other accommodation (such as government quarantine facilities).

Minimising contact: blended learning

From 22 July, colleges and universities have been able to commence a phased return to on campus learning as part of a blended model with remote teaching. Public health measures (including physical distancing) must be in place on campus.

Building on planning during the various phases of the Scottish Government’s route map, a blended or ‘hybrid’ approach will remain in place. This will see a combination of digital and face-to-face delivery that reflects public health guidance. Institutions will identify the appropriate blend of delivery, reflecting what will best ensure compliance with public health requirements while providing high quality learning as well as supporting more vulnerable learners and staff.

As they did at the start of the crisis, colleges and universities will continue to support the provision of equipment to support blended learning, while maintaining physical distancing, and also to minimise the impact of digital poverty on their students.

Staff and students may spend time on campus, albeit not in the numbers or as frequently as before the virus. The learning environment will be different from ‘normal’, at least at the beginning of the new term.

Recognising that there may be negative impacts to students and others if access to education is limited, colleges and universities should carefully consider the appropriate use of risk and equality impact assessments in deciding the scope and scale of face-to-face teaching.

Where face to face teaching is carried out, mitigation measures should be put in place to manage risk.

Large scale teaching events indoors must be avoided. The expectation is that most face to face engagement will be in much smaller groups. Physical distancing measures should be in place in all situations.

For contact tracing purposes, a record of the contact details of students attending in-person sessions should be kept. Colleges and universities should keep records of staff and students who have attended on-site classes and activities. Records should also be kept of visitors and contractors. Particular attention should be made to the guidance on lawful data collection and management.

Minimising contact: teaching groups

Where face-to-face learning is delivered on campus, teaching groups must be kept as small and consistent, with physical distancing measures in place.

This will help to reduce the likelihood of direct transmission and to allow for quicker identification of those who need to self-isolate. This will reduce the overall number of students who need to isolate in the event of a positive test for COVID-19. Rather than isolating an entire course or halls of residence, use of groups may also mean that certain classes or households can be isolated instead, minimising wider disruption

Colleges and universities should consider the most appropriate delivery and timetabling models to reduce the mixing of groups. The approach taken to configuring groups should be risk-based and adapted to the specific circumstances of the college or university.

The aim should be to keep group numbers for face to face teaching at a minimum, and generally less than 30. This should be supported by other Infection Prevention Control measures such as 2m+ physical distancing and the use of face coverings (in circumstances where the use of face coverings is recommended), particularly where strict physical distancing is not easy.

Group numbers of up to 50 students may be considered in some circumstances, but only where supported by a risk assessment, and with the provision of all other mitigations including 2m physical distancing, face coverings (in circumstances where the use of face coverings is recommended), environmental hygiene and adequate ventilation

Sharing of resources must be kept to a minimum. If unavoidable, resources and the surrounding area should be sanitised between use, with a suitable risk assessment and safe systems of work to ensure the previous user has cleaned / sanitized the area before the next user.

Where risk assessments indicate an increased risk due to sharing of resources, appropriate control measures must be introduced to minimise the risk of transmission. These risk assessments must be appropriate to the subject and equipment as well as the space.

Minimising contact: social groups

Institutions and providers should ensure students are aware that opportunities to socialise will be considerably more restrictive than is normally the case. This will not feel like a normal start to a student’s university or college life. Limits on meeting up with family and friends apply to social and recreational gatherings on and off campus. 

Household visiting and social gatherings

From Wednesday, 23 September 2020, visiting other households will not be permitted. There will be exceptions for:

  •  those living alone, or alone with children who have or who now choose to form extended households (for couples in non-cohabiting relationships)
  •  for the provision of informal childcare (by for example, grandparents)
  •  tradespeople

People can also continue to meet with another household in groups of up to 6 outdoors, including in private gardens.

In student settings, students who share a flat or a house, constitute a household.  

There is an exception to the restrictions on gatherings for students living in student accommodation to use cooking, dining, toilet or washing facilities which are shared with any person who is not a member of their household.

Rules for meeting other people in public indoor spaces that are subject to regulation and guidance remain the same – people can meet with one other household only and in groups of no more than 6 people.

Parties in halls of resident and PBSA

From 14 September 2020, restrictions on parties in private dwellings apply to student accommodation.  Regulation 10 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 makes it an offence to attend a party in student accommodation. A  “party” means a social gathering of 16 or more persons, who are members of more than one household. It is an offence not to comply with this restriction.

There is an exception for students living in student accommodation to use cooking, dining, toilet or washing facilities which are shared with any person who is not a member of their household.

Colleges and universities are expected to ensure that they have appropriate disciplinary arrangements in place should staff or students fail to comply with the law on social gatherings. We expect non-compliance to be treated as a serious breach in terms of disciplinary procedures. Sanctions will be determined on a case by case basis but it must be clear that they include the maximum sanctions available for gross misconduct in the most extreme cases. Institutions and accommodation providers should update their conduct and discipline policies if necessary and must ensure all staff and students are informed of this.

Common areas in institutions

Within institutions there will be a variety of common areas. It is important to maintain physical distancing in common areas by:

  • staggering break times to reduce pressure on break/eating areas
  • using safe outside areas for breaks, where possible
  • encouraging staff and students to bring their own food
  • using workplace areas that have been freed up by home working
  • reconfiguring seating and tables to maintain spacing
  • using protective screening for staff in public facing areas
  • regulating use of locker rooms, changing areas and other facility areas to reduce concurrent usage
  • encouraging storage of personal items and clothing in personal storage spaces, for example lockers
  • considering use of physical distance marking for areas such as toilets, showers, lockers and changing rooms and in any other areas where queues typically form

First published: 11 Sep 2020 Last updated: 24 Sep 2020 -