Publication - Advice and guidance

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

Published: 11 Sep 2020
Last updated: 14 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
Hygiene and cleaning

Enhanced hygiene and environmental cleaning arrangements

Personal hygiene

Staff and students should practice good hand and respiratory hygiene as set out in Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for non-health care settings, with further advice available from NHS Inform.

Institutions and providers should provide appropriate hygiene facilities (hand sanitising facilities), particularly at key areas such as entry and exit points, and follow as guidance on opening public and customer toilets. To assist with this, consider:

  • providing regular reminders and signage to uphold hygiene standards
  • providing hand sanitiser at multiple points, in addition to washrooms
  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets to ensure they are kept clean and physical distancing is achieved where possible
  • enhancing cleaning of touch points in busy areas
  • taking special care with cleaning of portable toilets
  • providing more waste facilities and frequent rubbish collection
  • providing either paper towels or electrical driers for drying hands
  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for showers, lockers and changing rooms to ensure they are kept clean and clear of personal items and that physical distancing is achieved as much as possible
  • restricting the number of people within the changing areas at any time
  • enhancing cleaning and sanitising of facilities regularly throughout the day

Cleaning and disinfecting the workplace before reopening

Following a period of campus closure, for example over the summer, it is important that the workplace is thoroughly disinfected before reopening. Measures should include:

  • an assessment for all sites, or parts of sites, that have been closed, before restarting work
  • cleaning procedures and providing hand sanitiser, before restarting work, in line with any requirements for reopening after prolonged closure
  • checking whether you need to service or adjust ventilation systems. Advice can be sought from your heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers or advisers. See HSE guidance on air conditioning and ventilation during the coronavirus outbreak and the most recent CIBSE COVID-19 ventilation guidance for more details

Legionella testing

There is an increased risk of Legionnaires Disease when buildings have been out of use, or not running at full capacity. This is because water systems may become stagnant when not in use, increasing the risk of legionella within water supplies. Many public and office buildings have been closed during the COVID-19 crisis, making legionella a legitimate concern as lockdown restrictions are eased.

The Health and Safety Executive have published advice on the risk of Legionella in buildings which are closed or running with reduced occupancy during the COVID-19 crisis on the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS) website.

Institutions and providers should undertake a health and safety check of buildings, and deep cleaning prior to reopening where necessary, to mitigate risks. More information can be found on the HSE website.

Regular cleaning

COVID-19 guidance for non-healthcare settings  sets out the expected cleaning regime. Routine cleaning should ensure regular cleaning schedules and procedures are in place using a product which is active against bacteria and viruses. Also regular (at least twice daily) cleaning of commonly touched objects and surfaces (telephones, keyboards, door handles, desks, countertops etc.) relevant to the setting 

The guidance also provides advice on environmental decontamination (cleaning and disinfection) after a possible coronavirus case has left the college or university. If a risk assessment of the setting indicates that a higher level of contamination may be present (for example, where unwell individuals have been or there is visible contamination with body fluids), then the need for additional PPE such as an apron and gloves should be considered. 

Should there be a known or suspected case of COVID-19, guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings should be followed, which includes guidance on when PPE might be appropriate and how to dispose of waste.


Institutions and providers should ensure adequate levels of ventilation. Where centralised or local mechanical ventilation is present, systems should be adjusted to full fresh air. If this is not possible systems should be operated as normal. Where ventilation units have filters present enhanced precautions should be taken when changing filters. Ventilation systems should be checked or adjusted to ensure they do not automatically adjust ventilation levels due to differing occupancy levels.

Wherever it is safe to do so, doors and windows should be kept open to increase natural ventilation (this advice will be reviewed as we head into the winter months). This will also help to reduce contact with door handles.  However, internal fire doors should never be held open (unless assessed and provided with appropriate hold open and self-closing mechanisms which respond to the actuation of the fire alarm system). The Fire Safety Risk Assessment should always be reviewed before any internal doors are held open.

Wearing appropriate PPE where necessary

Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

COVID-19 guidance for non-healthcare settings sets out guidance on use of PPE. This advice confirms that workplaces should use PPE consistent with local policies and in line with measures justified by risk assessment.

Health and Safety Executive recommends a risk-based approach focused on a hierarchy of control which seeks to reduce risk to the lowest reasonable practicable  level. This will help determine in which settings and what type of PPE would be appropriate. Colleges and universities have considerable expertise in determining PPE requirements based on risk assessment. Where the need for PPE is identified, it will be clearly communicated to staff and students and will be readily available.

Face coverings

We published guidance on the use of face coverings , which provides a definition of face coverings (which should not be confused with PPE). Use of face coverings in the circumstances set out in this guidance should be seen as just one mitigation within a package of measures. The other mitigation measures in this guidance, including 2m physical distancing, environmental cleaning, personal hand and respiratory hygiene remain vitally important. Face coverings should not be used for the purpose of reducing physical distancing requirements.

Anyone wishing to wear a face covering in a college, university or in student accommodation should be permitted to do so, if it is safe.

Some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings. Further information on exemptions can be found in the above face coverings guidance.

Face coverings should not generally be required when students are seated in classrooms or other learning and teaching environments, however this is subject to a risk assessment appropriate to the specific circumstances and as long as physical distancing is maintained.

Face coverings should be worn indoors wherever 2m distance cannot be guaranteed. This includes where people are interacting face-to-face at less than 2m for a sustained period (about 15 minutes or more) or for any amount of time where there is close contact within 1m.

Face coverings should also be worn in the following circumstances (except where someone is exempt from wearing a covering):

  • where people are moving about in institutions in corridors and indoor communal areas (including toilets) as well as other areas of campus where 2m physical distancing cannot be guaranteed
  • in line with the current arrangements for public transport, where adults and young people aged 5 and over are travelling on public and dedicated college and university transport
  • in corridors and indoor communal areas in student accommodation. This includes toilets, common rooms and laundry rooms

Face coverings should be worn in some parts of student accommodation where 2m distance from people from another household cannot be guaranteed. This includes corridors and some shared facilities such as laundries and common rooms. It does not include kitchens and bathrooms shared by multiple households, where other mitigations including 2m physical distancing and enhanced cleaning and personal hygiene measures should be in place.

Face coverings should not generally be required when people are interacting face-to-face with others within their household, for example in a cluster flats or other private space.

Subject to 2m physical distancing between people of different households, enhanced cleaning and other mitigations such as rota systems being in place, face coverings do not need to be worn in kitchens and bathrooms shared by multiple households.

Face coverings have been mandatory on public transport since 19 June 2020 and in shops since 10 July 2020. From 8 August 2020, face coverings have been mandatory in wider range of settings including libraries, museums and places of worship as set out in regulations, except where a person is exempt from wearing a covering.

Face coverings may also play a particularly important role if prevalence rises, and their use may then be increased in specific local contexts on the basis of risk assessments and local factors, including as follows:

  • Incident Management Teams may recommend a further strengthening of the use of face coverings in other areas of the institution when dealing with a local outbreak
  • institutions may wish, subject to appropriate risk assessment and consultation with staff and trade unions, to consider strengthening the use of face coverings in other areas of campus (e.g. classrooms) to address specific local circumstances (e.g. particular concerns or anxieties around distancing or confidence building in the context of local or wider outbreaks).

An example of local stepping upof measures may be the use of face coverings in teaching spaces in circumstances where increased community transmission is being seen, or where some students may need particular support, and whereby close contact may occur.

In making any such local decisions on the stepping up of use of face coverings, it will remain vitally important to consider the potential impact including via the appropriate use of Equality Impact Assessments. The impact of wearing a face covering for students or staff with additional support needs, including any level of hearing loss, should be carefully considered, as communication for many in this group relies in part on being able to see someone’s face clearly. Individuals who may not be able to handle and wear face coverings as directed (those with additional support needs or disabilities) should not wear them as it may inadvertently increase the risk of transmission.

It is vital that clear instructions are provided to students and staff on how to put on, remove, store and dispose of face coverings in all of the circumstances above, to avoid inadvertently increasing the risks of transmission. The key points are as follows:

  • face coverings should not be shared with others
  • before putting on or removing the face covering, hands should be cleaned by washing with soap and water or hand sanitiser
  • make sure the face covering is the right size to cover the nose, mouth and chin
  • when temporarily storing a face covering (e.g. during classes), it should be placed in a washable, sealed bag or container. Avoid placing it on surfaces, due to the possibility of contamination
  • re-usable face coverings should be washed after each day of use at 60 degrees centigrade or in boiling water
  • disposable face coverings must be disposed of safely and hygienically. Staff and students should be encouraged to place their face coverings in the general waste bin. They are not considered to be clinical waste in the same way that used PPE may be.

Read further general advice on face coverings.

There should be regular messaging from institutions to staff and students about these instructions.

It is reasonable to assume that most people will now have access to re-usable face coverings due to their increasing use in wider society, and we have made available a video on how to make a simple face covering. However, where anybody is struggling to access a face covering, or where they are unable to use their face covering due to having forgotten it or it having become soiled/unsafe, institutions and providers may wish to take steps to have a contingency supply available to meet such needs.

First published: 11 Sep 2020 Last updated: 14 Sep 2020 -