Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advanced Learning Recovery Group minutes - 21 September 2021

Published: 6 Oct 2021
Date of meeting: 21 Sep 2021

Minutes from the group's meeting on 21 September 2021.

Published:
6 Oct 2021
Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advanced Learning Recovery Group minutes - 21 September 2021

Attendees and apologies

Apologies:

  • Caroline Leburn of the SG Short Life working group on ventilation

Items and actions

Welcome

The chair (Jamie Hepburn - Minister for HE, FE, Youth Employment and Training) welcomed all to the meeting.

The minutes for the previous meeting (14 September 2021) were not circulated due to unforeseen IT issues.

Action:

  • to circulate the minutes from the previous meeting to group members for ratification

Apologies - Caroline Leburn of the SG Short Life working group on ventilation is unable to attend and give her planned presentation on ventilation.  

Action:

  • the ventilation presentation to be added to the next meeting agenda.

Reflections on the start of term – Craig Robertson, Advanced Learning and Science

An invite to the sector to share their experiences of the beginning of term, and any issues that need to be raised.

The discussion covered the following points:

  • observation that students and staff seem happy to be back on campus but campuses are quieter than usual
  • start of term student events have been delivered both online and in person with reduced capacity and other mitigating measures in place
  • there are heightened anxieties in the sector caused by confusion about rules about where face coverings are required and more clear guidance on the requirements would be welcomed. 
  • trade unions suggest face coverings should be worn in all settings
  • some institutions report that many students are not wearing face coverings
  • messaging about the pandemic has been too granular to date and should be more consistent, with a focus on core messages going forward, including an  emphasis on personal responsibility
  • messaging should also constantly reiterate that the pandemic is ongoing
  • stronger messaging would be helpful to reinforce instructions to staff and students and combat scepticism or those who do not take the severity of the pandemic seriously.
  • a reminder that the governmental messaging remains consistent with the  core points; “get vaccinated, test yourself regularly, and practice good hand hygiene” and these still stand
  • there are concerns over the high degree of practical learning normally at colleges that students, particularly those studying vocational subjects, are missing out on
  • prospective college students have been put off by the blended/hybrid learning approach and this is reflected in the number of students that have declined placement offers
  • some concerns over the high level of COVID paperwork staff are required to complete, adding to already high workloads
  • suggestion that colleges tend to have had better engagement with trade union representatives than universities
  • outbreak management plans have not always been shared with trade union representatives
  • a request from trade unions for senior FE/HE management to engage closely with trade union representatives
  • historically the focus has been on mitigating COVID transmission but there should now be a greater focus on  dealing with outbreaks
  • mental health problems amongst students has risen greatly during the pandemic, and is exacerbated by economic and academic factors. More needs to be done to tackle these issues, with suggestion for increased funding
  • concerns that ventilation is not being handled as consistently or seriously as other mitigating measures
  • vaccine uptake amongst students is good but concerns that some students are waiting to go back to other areas of the UK to get a second dose instead of getting it in Scotland
  • it has been suggested that some English students have been seeking a third vaccine dose in Scotland to ensure they have received the two doses in Scotland which would therefore make them eligible for vaccine certification
  • many worried about the challenges of proving vaccine status for those vaccinated outside Scotland but work is underway with NHS and other devolved administrations to deliver a solution to this
  • there have been some reported issues of students in the Glasgow area being unable to source housing near their place of study, meaning that they have to use public transport to travel from further away
  • the latest data indicates  a decline in cases amongst 18-19 year olds and an increase amongst 16 and 17 year olds                                                          

Expert Advisory Group (EAG) – looking ahead – Professor Carol Tannahill, Chief Social Policy Adviser, Scottish Government 

Professor Tannahill, Chair of the Expert Advisory Group, led a presentation on the forward focus of the EAG and invited others from the expert group to add to the discussion.

The following points were noted:

  • the co-determinants affecting the R number have so far been separated into five different categories on a High-Low scale: contacts, non-adherence, Test and Protect system pressure, susceptibility, and infectiousness. More work will be done on this and shared with CRG
  • suppressing the virus and reducing hospitalisations is a clear focus. To help minimise this it is important to utilise the  mitigations available such as face coverings, vaccinations, and vaccine certification
  • there is a upward trend in vaccination among 18-29 year olds. At present the vaccines available reduce infection by 60-85% and prevent severe disease in over 90% of cases
  • ONS statistic suggests that over 88% of people in Scotland have developed antibodies against COVID, through vaccination or contracting the disease
  • more creative ways of assessment involving greater flexibility to carry over or retake modules could be an option to reduce anxiety where existing methods may be causing increased anxiety.
  • when the perception of risk decreases, so too does adherence to guidelines
  • the behaviours of individuals are influenced by the opinions of others around them. The wearing of face coverings will benefit from social norms based on students’ values, e.g. looking after others, in order to facilitate face covering usage
  • communal messaging (such as FACTS or a refreshed/updated version of it) is very important. Multiple forms of communication from multiple different sources can be unhelpful and overwhelming and risk being ignored
  • co-production of messages with staff and students can be helpful to promote shared ownership and understanding

The resultant discussion generated the following points:

  • in ascertaining what an outbreak on campus may look like and what effect it may have, it is more helpful to look at the co-determinants affecting the R number rather than trying to come up with a single scenario
  • the EAG would be happy to speak to student association representatives to share their expertise and insight
  • focusing too much attention on those claiming exemption to face covering guidance could alienate those people. Instead, it is prudent to focus on those adhering to the guidance rather than those not to create a normative climate of face covering usage

Face coverings – updated guidance – Nic White, Advanced Learning and Science

College and university libraries are treated same as public libraries with face coverings needed except for members of staff and volunteers, partitioned or physically distanced from the public. 

In lecture theatres, face coverings are required for students but not for anyone presenting if there is a partition or at least one metre distance from others. 

Face coverings are required for all in labs and classrooms unless there are partitions or at least one metre distance from others. 

Action:

  • the beyond level 0 guidance will be reviewed and updated to reflect these points

AOB and end of meeting

The Minister and group members gave their thanks to Carol Tannahill, who is stepping down as the Chair of the EAG next week. Her successor is Professor of Public Health at The University of Edinburgh, Linda Bauld.

The Chair brought the meeting to a close.