Minister says physical and mental wellbeing the priority
Scottish universities must ensure students self-isolating on campus receive the highest possible standards of support to maintain their physical as well as their mental wellbeing, according to Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead.
He was updating Parliament on the latest Government measures to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the university sector.
Mr Lochhead also said every possible effort is being made to allow students to return home safely at Christmas if they wish to do so, and that the Government is now exploring the merits of some ‘targeted surveillance COVID testing’, to better understand the level of asymptomatic cases of the virus among the student population.
Universities Scotland, which represents Scotland’s 19 universities and higher education institutions, has now confirmed a package of 10 measures it will be using to support student wellbeing.
The Government published additional guidance to inform students wishing to return home right now, of their options and how the latest national restrictions apply to student households.
Mr Lochhead said the Government continues to work alongside universities, accommodation providers, unions, and other key stakeholders to keep campuses and their wider communities safe, and to support students and staff to comply with existing COVID-19 measures.
In its planning for the return of thousands of students for the new academic year, Mr Lochhead added the Government had balanced the negative impact of limiting access to education on students’ personal development, their wellbeing and life chances, with the country also needing the stream of talented and trained individuals produced by Scotland’s world-leading colleges and universities that underpins the economy.
He emphasised to manage that, the Government had consistently planned for some face-to-face teaching in colleges and universities as part of a blended return to campus, during phase three of the Government's route map.
Mr Lochhead said:
“Universities and student accommodation providers have a duty of care to their students - right now, this must be their number one priority and I expect them to take every possible step to look after their safety and wellbeing.
“That is why all universities will now provide a stay-at-campus support package for any students self-isolating, and we have asked the sector to ensure that’s gold standard.
“Our key message right now encourages students to remain living in their current households and on campus if they are able to. We are now working together with the sector on the best approaches on how to handle the Christmas break.
“Universities should also look sympathetically at students who have left or want to serve notice on their tenancy and re-apply at a future point – Ministers are urging the sector to apply the utmost flexibility on this point.
“We remain mindful of clinical advice about the limitations of asymptomatic testing and the need to prioritise our testing capacity. However, we are also exploring the merits of some targeted surveillance testing focused on institutions which present particular concerns, to understand the level of asymptomatic cases.”