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
Supporting staff and students

Supporting staff and students

In addition to the key principles, health and safety and hygiene measures referred to in other sections of these guidelines, and guidance on returning to work safely, the following aspects are included in institutions and providers approach.


Communication with staff, students, student associations and unions is crucial at each stage of the phased return, particularly in provision of reassurance and evidence that measures recommended in workplace risk assessments have been implemented and that staff and students feel they are returning to a supportive, caring and safe environment.

Institutions and providers will implement up to date, clear and effective communication of the arrangements and policies in place. This will be via a range of media to ensure high levels of awareness among students, staff and visitors, including external contractors, both before arrival on campus and while on site. Institutions and providers will make clear the channels of communication through which staff, students, student associations and trade unions can raise concerns about the implementation of safety measures in individual settings.

Institutions and providers will remind staff and students of the symptoms to look for and clear advice will be provided on how to respond should symptoms become apparent while on university premises. 

Work from home and transport

Scotland’s route map highlights that remote working remains the default position for those who can from lockdown to and including Phase 3. In Phase 4, it states that remote and flexible working remains encouraged.

Remote working will be supported, where possible and appropriate, and staff will begin to return to campus where government guidance allows for it and roles require it.

Institutions and providers will follow a risk-based approach to protect the health and safety of staff and students. Staff and students will be fully engaged in that process, through trade union and student association representatives.

In Phase 3, public transport is operating a full service, with physical distancing measures in place. It is estimated that the capacity with physical distancing in place on public transport could be between 10% and 25% of ‘normal’ capacity. Transport Scotland has stated that where staff need to be present at the workplace, employers should be as flexible as possible, to allow earlier or later start and finish times to spread people’s use of the transport system. 

Institutions and providers should also consider the guidance on transport, advice on how to travel safely and other guidance both in considering the implications for staff and student travel to campuses and where they are transport providers themselves.

Institutions and providers should ensure that staff and students have access to public health guidance, including the wearing of face coverings on using public transport safely. This includes that wearing of face coverings on public transport which is now mandatory.

Institutions and providers should encourage staff and students to use active transport where possible, e.g., travel by foot or bike. If bikes are stored in bike sheds/racks, consideration should be given to the cleaning of these areas and to reducing time spent at the bikes stores/shed.

Face coverings should be worn on dedicated college or university transport, which should be regarded as an extension of the college or university estate. Important mitigations include adherence to physical distancing guidance as it relates to public transport, hygiene, ventilation, improved cleaning regimes, including regular and thorough cleaning of surfaces, and regular handwashing.

Vehicles should be driven by the same person where possible in order to minimise the risk of infection. Where this is not possible – and subject to specific risk assessment - the vehicle should be disinfected after use.

Coming to and leaving university, college or accommodation

The following measures should be considered: 

  • staggering arrival and departure times to reduce crowding into and out of the workplace, taking account of impacts on those with protected characteristics and caring responsibilities for example noting the staggered school and nursery start and finishing times
  • defining process alternatives for entry/exit points where appropriate, for example, deactivating pass readers or keypads at turnstiles in favour of showing a pass to security personnel at a distance
  • reducing congestion, for example, by increasing entry/exit points
  • providing handwashing facilities, or hand sanitiser where not possible, at entry and exit points
  • using markings and introducing one-way flow at entrances/exits
  • providing additional parking or facilities such as bike racks to help people walk, run, or cycle to work where possible
  • limiting passengers in corporate vehicles
  • providing more storage for workers’ clothes and bags

Shift patterns

Institutions and providers may develop plans to change shift patterns to protect the workforce and optimise productivity. This could include reducing the need for travel at peak times and opportunities for flexible working patterns. This will require negotiation with trade union or workforce representatives if it involves a change in terms and conditions.   

Special consideration for people at high clinical risk

From 1 August 2020 those who were shielding could go back to workplaces where they cannot work from home. Their employer should support them to do so safely and ensure they can stringently follow public health guidance around physical distancing and hygiene.  There may, however, be the requirement to revert back to some level of shielding in the future at either a national or local level if the number of cases rise. Those who previously had to shield will be kept informed of any relevant health advice if things do change. Institutions and providers can also keep up to date with the most recent advice on the Scottish Government website.

In order to support this, an individual risk assessment guidance and tool has been developed to help staff and managers consider the specific risk of COVID-19 in the workplace. It is relevant to all staff, but will be particularly relevant to those who are returning to work after shielding, those who are returning to normal duties after COVID-19 related restrictions, those who are returning to the workplace after working from home or anyone who has a concern about a particular vulnerability to COVID-19.

When planning on extending/resuming activities, including the formation of student households, institutions and providers should consider that some students may be required to shield should the guidance on people at high clinical risk change.

Equity in the workplace

There is clear evidence that COVID-19 does not affect all population groups equally. Individual health circumstances and protected characteristics will be discussed as appropriate with staff and students in consideration of expansion of activities and in risk assessment processes.

Consideration should be given as to whether any particular measures or adjustments are required to fulfil duties under the equalities legislation. It is important to make sure the steps implemented do not have an unjustifiably negative impact on some groups compared to others, for example, those with caring responsibilities or those with religious commitments.

Consideration should be given within the risk assessment as to whether sector restart might have greater impact on some groups than others depending on social circumstances, health conditions or legally protected characteristics. The Equality and Human Rights Commission can provide advice on a range of issues such as non-discrimination, communication with employees on equality issues, adjustments for disabled people, support for pregnant employees, flexible working for those with caring responsibilities, support for employees affected by domestic abuse, how to deal with harassment at work, and mental health issues.

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