Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advanced Learning Recovery Group work plan – 15 June 2021

A work plan for the Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advanced Learning Recovery Group.


All colleges and universities in Scotland are currently operating a Blended Learning approach.

Terms of Reference for the Advanced Learning CRG underline the urgency of making progress in order to allow for timely planning by institutions for the next academic year.

Given that the current trajectory for controlling the virus makes the move to beyond Level 0 possible by late Summer/early Autumn, the need to develop guidance in this scenario is a priority for June.

Focus would then shift to reviewing/adapting existing guidance for operating under ‘Blended Learning’ + ‘Restricted Blended Learning’ in the course of July.

The approach to mitigations in colleges and Universities in the new academic year include the following broad principles/assumptions:

  • the vast majority of adults will be vaccinated by the time colleges and universities return, as a result of progress on the vaccination programme
  •  a proportion of cohort 12 (18-29 year olds) will be returning to campus with at best only one vaccine dose and still susceptible to the virus and more likely to transmit it. The projected completion of two doses for 18s and over by w/c 13 September does not allow for the 2-3 week period post-vaccination to maximise effectiveness of the vaccine
  • mitigations that are necessary and proportionate to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of students and staff should be maintained in colleges and universities
  • the approach taken in colleges and universities should be in line with the wider national strategy. As restrictions are eased in wider society, the expectation is that comparable restrictions will be eased in colleges and universities

What the work plan aims to achieve

  1. Produce advice by the end of June to inform Scottish Government guidance about Covid management of the start of the new academic year in a scenario that Scotland has moved beyond its current levels system into a ‘new normal’ - beyond level 0.
  2. Ensure we draw on the expert group’s advice - prepared in order to support Higher and Further Education bodies to plan for the approach to COVID risk-reduction mitigations in the next academic year.

It highlights the approaches that are advised as being essential for the resumption of in-person research and learning together with wider student activities, given current understanding of the likely progression of the pandemic and evidence and learning from the past year.

It recognises also that there are lessons to be learnt about processes of policy development, communication and implementation. As we move forward, the emphasis will shift towards one based less on national ‘rules’ and more on risk assessment and shared responsibility. 

Establish Rapid task and finish sub-groups to support the preparation of workable Guidance associated with key areas of activity, as follows:

  • controlled, learning and research environments (workshops, labs, lectures, tutorials, libraries, study spaces and so on)
  • student accommodation as a higher risk setting, should be a priority focus for planning for the next academic year
  • social and recreational activities (sports, clubs, Student unions, bars)
  • travel – inc. measures to manage the risk of importation of the virus

As such, the expert advice lends itself to the formation of two sub-groups, that will cover the following broad areas (a) formal settings on campuses such as lecture theatres, classrooms, laboratories, canteens, bars and (b) less formal settings such as accommodation and travel. 

Approach to this/consideration

Scotland’s Coronavirus Strategic Framework sets out the tools available to suppress the virus to the lowest possible levels, as follows:

  • vaccination Programme

  • testing, contact tracing and self-isolation
  • proportionate protective measures
  • measures to manage the risks of importation of the virus
  • supporting adherence
  • providing care and support to mitigate the harms of the crisis

The Expert advice therefore considers each of these tools in relation to the scenario that Scotland has moved beyond its current levels system into a ‘new normal’ – beyond level 0.

Build on the recommendations and lessons learnt from the previous Groups, including the Ministerial Leadership Group and the Learner Journey and Student Hardship Taskforces, as well as the experience of the sectors over the last academic year. The work should therefore take into account the following (previously identified) priority issues where that is appropriate to the key area of activity being examined.

  • vaccines: there is a clear public health rationale of facilitating vaccine uptake; challenge of a mobile population; and of international students
  • testing: testing provides reassurance; it allows infection to be found and containment measures to be put in place
  • physical distancing: getting this right is a key enabler for institutions to meet students’ needs and carry out research at meaningful levels
  • managed isolation: quarantine hotels expensive, isolating, and therefore a deterrent for international students
  • accommodation: Institutions need to be able to allocate accommodation; students need confirmation of places in order to plan for the coming academic year
  • study spaces/libraries: students need access to library facilities and study spaces; concerns amongst staff over numbers; hygiene requirements
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