Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 1 March 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 1 March 2022.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory group members

  • Prof Linda Bauld (Chair)
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Prof Julie Fitzpatrick
  • Dr Diane Stockton
  • Prof Steve Reicher
  • Linda McKay
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Eileen Scott
  • Kathy Johnston


  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Gary Gillespie
  • Dr Ellie Hothersall
  • Prof Brigid Daniel

SG Covid Analysis Division

  • Brett MacGillivray

SG Covid Testing and Contract Tracing Policy Team

  • Fiona McDiarmid

Scottish Government (observing)

  • Stevie Boal
  • Keith Fernie
  • Fraser Syme
  • Daniel Kleinberg
  • Keira McCutcheon
  • Gery McLaughlin
  • Nakou Gospels
  • Caroline Pretty
  • William Quinn
  • Craig Robertson
  • Steven Scott
  • Alan Sloan


  • John Keenan
  • Idris Akormadu
  • John Aggasild

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The meeting was chaired by Linda Bauld. The Chair thanked everyone for their participation and acknowledged that some members need to leave early. The Chair informed the group that Fiona McDiarmid, SG Joint Head of Testing Policy, would be joining them for the agenda item on Testing. The Chair went on to say that Sarah Wotton had now moved to another area of Scottish Government, so any future correspondence should be sent to either John Keenan or Idris Arkomadu. The Chair expressed her thanks for Sarah’s contributions.

Minutes of last meeting and matters arising

Sub-group members were asked for any comments on the draft minutes. All were content for the minutes to be published online.

The Chair updated members on the following:

  • the Chair read out an email from Eileen Scott which provided an update on the St. Andrews University outbreak
  • as an action by Audrey from the EAG meeting on 1 February, a document relating to vaccine waning is now on SLACK
  • members were thanked for their feedback on the assessment agenda item
  • discussed the FM statement and the Strategic Framework Update from 22 February
  • members were thanked for providing a register of interests return and welcomed further submission

COVID-19 surveillance update

Diane Stockton summarised the latest figures, vaccine uptake, testing outcomes, incidents in FE/HE, symptom surveillance and outcomes. Key points:

  • steady increase in younger people getting third dose
  • population seroprevalence levels are stable. However, around 8% of cases are re-infections
  • infection levels in most age groups have stabilised
  • generally speaking, half of test results are from LFD tests and the other half are from PCR tests
  • in England, case rates are continuing to follow a slightly downward trend

In discussion the following points were made:

  • there has been an increase in cases throughout Greater Glasgow & Clyde whereas there has been reduction in cases in other areas. PHS have just received this data but will follow up

Modelling: projections for the academic year

Brett MacGillivray delivered a presentation on the recent modelling outputs and discussed possible futures for COVID-19 summarising that:

  • R number is currently between 0.9 and 1.1 and Growth rate is currently between -2% and 1%
  • five local authorities are expected to exceed 500 cases per 100000 people
  • the Immune World scenario is the best case scenario. Infections could be below 1000 per day, hospital and ICU occupancy and deaths remain low. Planning is required to consider a future where COVID-19 becomes endemic and testing and self-isolation are used
  • in the Variant World scenario, the worst case scenario, a new variant emerges. A modelled variant with Delta characteristics and Omicron levels of vaccine escape and transmission could lead to a peak similar to Omicron and a high peak of hospitalisations due to variant severity. This would lead to pressure on healthcare and other sectors and high staff absence

In discussion the following points were made:

  • SG building a new model which incorporates waning model better in order to factor in that infections don’t decrease as quickly
  • concern about the increase in hospital admission and occupancy numbers are increasing, mainly amongst older age groups. This could be due to several factors
  • continue to emphasise the need for boosters amongst younger cohort to get them fully vaccinated. There is a need for continued messaging because even though cases are easing just now, this will impact in the future

Wider Harms’ summaries

The Chair informed the group that the paper is almost finalised and welcomed any further comments or suggestions from the group.

  • further consideration needs to be given to how young peoples’ contributions are acknowledged and that they are achieving meaningful and fully recognised qualifications
  • John Keenan provided an update - more statistics are to be added then the paper will be published following SG sign-off. He thanked everyone for their contributions


Fiona McDiarmid presented on discussion Paper 6.1 on ‘Asymptomatic testing for continuity within the university, college and the Community Learning and Development sectors’. Her presentation covered:

  • the decision by the UK Government from 1 April to withdraw freely available testing kits for mass asymptomatic testing and how that will have implications for Scotland and devolved administrations, where an extended period of transition is the preferred option
  • the Strategic Framework was updated in the context of moving into a vaccine world where vaccines work against variants
  • moving to plan for a more targeted response to testing– transition plan including timescales scheduled to be published mid-March
  • SG intention to continue surveillance such as waste water monitoring
  • the First Minister’s plan for transition phase up until June. SG will need to consider options for resourcing this
  • other option is three nations alignment - transitioning until May
  • general message – the nations want the same things but how Scotland gets there and when it gets there may differ from other nations
  • vulnerable people need to be carefully considered and provided with appropriate support
  • SG colleagues currently setting up groups to discuss what the transition will look like

In discussion the following points were made:

  • negotiating with UK Government on how big the ONS survey will be – SG are keen to have that as a pillar of surveillance and want to build on wastewater sampling
  • indications are that the uptake of asymptomatic testing is low. However, it is estimated that testing numbers are higher than actually reported with around 40% of tests being reported
  • testing increased around holidays – perhaps suggesting that messaging around test before travelling has led to increased asymptomatic testing
  • SG working with PHS to develop outbreak management plan for emerging variants of concern. It is intended to have an equality angle to testing programmes e.g. How do those individuals who need extra support access it? This is how to manage risks as the testing programme moves into a different phase
  • trying to factor in the changes to self-isolation and concurrent messaging, and how that will influence the public’s perception of what they need to do
  • temporarily targeting testing was welcome, particularly in the context of students becoming less inclined to test in the future, but care must be taken that students are treated the same as the wider population
  • planning around outbreak management was welcomed, but outbreak detection and identification of variants comes from samples- surveillance could suffer if international travel is not tested
  • there needs to be continuous thinking on “What can we learn upon and improve?”, but this is underpinned by costs and budgets
  • it should now be easier for the majority of institutions to change to different forms of study to protect most clinically vulnerable staff and students. Hybrid learning is likely to be used more frequently
  • information around ventilation – Stephen Reicher to forward materials to John Keenan. Retain virtual options
  • SG speaking with SEPA on how to expand and sequence wastewater testing in Scotland
  • larger and wealthier institutions probably have the capability to do their own testing but smaller, specialist institutions would struggle. Less affluent institutions are likely to have less affluent students who can’t afford to test themselves
  • interim position could to take advantage of effective procurement of colleges and universities to ensure the least possible cost – the sector knows the calendar year of such as beginnings and ends of terms, peaks and troughs to plan for this. This could be done as a consortium or as a sector
  • testing before travel should not just be for international students but also for non-domiciled Scottish students
  • the financial impact of outbreak management can be significant, so the use of testing could certainly be a cost effective mitigation
  • if institutions were to continue testing they would need ensure inclusive participation and have a rationale for what measures remain and what are dropped. This needs to be supported by effective communication with messaging around collective responsibility as opposed to personal responsibility

​​​​​​The future of the EAG

The Chair updated members on the following:              

  • the main Scottish Government COVID-19 main advisory group are not meeting regularly but will re-convene when at a time when necessary, such as the emergence of a new variant. This sub-group’s advice will still go to that main group.
  • the Terms of Reference still exist and the remit still holds
  • with sector specific guidance being significantly reduced there is less need for this group to meet and discuss in order to inform that guidance
  • the group should continue to meet with existing remit until end of the academic year. Not needed to meet regularly unless things change dramatically
  • consider a monthly meeting – developments would be with COVID-19 leads, once new guidance is in public domain and would include presentation of Test and Protect paper
  • all welcomed the move to change the frequency of meetings to monthly
  • the need for a continued focus on the wider harms was highlighted as there is still work to be done. There is however, a need to consider how such work would fit in with other areas across Scottish Government
  • concern around loss of expertise and adaptation to recovery – how academic advice and research is shared

AOB and close

Date of next meeting – 29 March.


  • Stephen Reicher to forward materials in relation to ventilation to John Keenan
  • Diane Stockton to look into the increased number of cases within Greater Glasgow and Clyde
  • Wider Harms paper to be published following final amendments by SG officials
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