Safe return to campuses

Updated guidance for colleges, universities and student accommodation.

Revised guidance for colleges, universities and student accommodation providers reflecting the latest public health advice has been published.

It builds on previous guidance and uses the most up-to-date evidence to support universities, colleges and accommodation providers plan for a safe return to campus in the new academic year. It includes:

  • a continuation of blended learning, with significantly reduced frequency and numbers of staff and students on campus compared to pre-COVID levels
  • a requirement to keep face-to-face teaching to small groups, generally less than 30 and supported by other infection prevention control measures. Group numbers of up to 50 students may be considered in some circumstances, but only where supported by a risk assessment
  • advice that face coverings should be worn in any area on campus where physical distancing cannot be guaranteed, on dedicated college and university transport and in student accommodation indoor communal areas such as toilets, common rooms and laundry rooms
  • a requirement for colleges and universities to give clear information on regulations and guidance to students arriving from outside Scotland, and to take steps to ensure international students and staff who need to quarantine comply with the law, including using appropriate disciplinary procedures

The start of the student year will be fundamentally different this year with significant change to the delivery of education and a need to dramatically curtail the socialising many would associate with this period. It is vital, for the protection of public health, that institutions ensure that the guidance is complied with.

Universities Scotland, Colleges Scotland, National Union of Students (NUS), trades unions and public health professionals were consulted on the guidance.

Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead said:

“Colleges and universities have been working extremely hard to ensure the safest possible environment for students and staff returning.

“Studying in Scotland is special no matter where you come from and, while this is an exciting time of year for new and returning students, it is not a resumption of normal life on campus.

“Remote learning will significantly reduce the number of people on campus at any one time, while everyone on campus or in student accommodation must follow the rules around quarantine, self-isolation, physical distancing and using face coverings.

“This guidance strengthens some of these issues and institutions must make students and staff aware of Scottish law and public health advice to keep themselves and others safe. For those people who need to quarantine on arrival, or self-isolate with COVID-19 symptoms, institutions will have a range of practical support in place.

“While we will keep the guidance under review, we believe this strikes the right balance of allowing young people to get on with their lives in a manner that is as safe as it can be for students, staff and society. I have no doubt that students will want to act responsibly and will follow the rules that we are asking them to observe.”

Professor Gerry McCormac, Convener of Universities Scotland, said:

“Universities are looking forward to welcoming students back for the start of a new academic year. We have been working for months to plan a safe return that will support high quality learning and offer a rounded student experience while ensuring the safety of our students, staff and the wider community. It’s important that students have the opportunity to continue their studies; they’ve been through a lot and will benefit in many ways from a safe return to study.”

Shona Struthers, Chief Executive of Colleges Scotland, said:

“The safety of our students and staff is the overarching priority, and this collaboration between the college and university sectors, NUS Scotland and the Scottish Government is an important element in helping everyone in the tertiary education system return to campuses with confidence in the measures which have been put in place.

“As well as following the latest advice from the Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland, colleges will continue to engage with student associations, staff, and trade unions to do everything possible to make the approach of blended online and onsite learning for students a success throughout this new academic year. Although the practical implications of COVID-19 certainly present challenges to the sector, colleges and their staff have shown remarkable resilience and flexibility in continuing to successfully deliver learning throughout the pandemic.”

Professor Marion Bain, Interim Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said:

“University and college life in the midst of Covid19 will feel very different.  While learning will continue and students will enjoy spending time with friends, this must be done in a safe way.  It is vital that students and staff are aware of what they need to do and that they follow all the requirements.  These measures are essential in ensuring safety for students, staff and for all those around them.”


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

Information on what you can and cannot do under Scotland’s route map

Information and advice on COVID-19 is available on Student Information Scotland


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