Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 14 September 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 14 September 2021.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group members:

  • Professor Carol Tannahill (Chair)
  • Professor Marion Bain
  • Professor Chris Chapman 
  • Professor Brigid Daniel 
  • Dr Ellie Hothersall
  • Professor Stephen Reicher
  • Professor Devi Sridhar
  • Professor Ian Rivers
  • Dr Diane Stockton


  • Professor Julie Fitzpatrick 
  • Linda McKay
  • Eileen Scott
  • Professor Paul Flowers 

SG Covid Analysis Division:

  • David Millson

SG (observing):

  • Professor Linda Bauld 
  • Stevie Boal
  • Louise Feenie
  • Keith Fernie
  • Nicolas White
  • Craig Robertson
  • Michelle Isalo


  • John Keenan
  • Alistair Imlach

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions 

The meeting was chaired by Carol Tannahill. The Chair thanked everyone for their participation. The Chair also introduced and welcomed new SG colleagues to the meeting: Michelle Isalo and Alistair Imlach.

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. 

Colleges and universities have provided returns to SG outlining their plans for the next academic year – returns from all colleges and universities were provided and reviewed.

Craig Robertson summarised findings of the analysis of returns from colleges and universities as follows:

  • there is real sense of readiness across the main themes: testing, vaccination, risk mitigation measures, outbreak management, contingency planning and communications
  • overall, most institutions reported engagement with local Public Health Teams when preparing for the new academic year
  • SG officials to communicate with some institutions to discuss areas where further detail is required
  • the summary of analysis to be shared with the group

In discussion the following points were made:

  • the summary was welcomed by the group, illustrating the importance of continuing preparation to ensure outbreaks are contained effectively with appropriate support in place for students and staff
  • the importance of institutions building strong relationships with the continued support of local public health teams was emphasised
  • concerns remain about the proportion of the student population who are still not fully vaccinated, particularly in relation to international students

Modelling: projections for start of the new academic year: David Millson SG Covid Analysis Division 

David Millson delivered a presentation on recent modelling outputs. Current data supports previous models shared with the group indicating cases have followed ‘better’ projections reasonably well.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • although similarities can be drawn with children returning to school, there is a great deal more uncertainty on students returning
  • given prevalence in the wider community, outbreaks in universities are to be expected
  • the group agreed the need to use enhanced data models with varying parameters in order to prepare advice for future. This will help to provide a clear position of tolerance and when additional advice will be required
  • the group will engage with SG Covid Analysis Division colleagues to produce a paper assessing key parameters for future scenarios

Student surveillance dashboard (update): Diane Stockton, Public Health Scotland 

Diane Stockton summarised the latest figures, vaccine uptake, testing outcomes, incidents in HE/FE, seroprevalence of antibodies, symptom surveillance and outcomes.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • infection rates in the university age cohort have now returned to similar levels to those prior to the recent spike, but they are still at a high level
  • antibody surveys conducted by PHS and ONS indicate high levels of antibodies in individuals aged 16-25 (ranging between 70-85%)
  • a small number of incidents involving small numbers of students have been recorded since start of term
  • the importance of managing student wellbeing during periods of educational disruption was noted. Particularly, institutions must consider effective communication to students regarding the impact on educational attainment

AOB and close 

Members to attend a future Covid Recovery Group meeting, to provide an overview of future work priorities.

It was agreed that the scheduling of these meetings will be reviewed in consideration of the scheduling of Covid Recovery Group meetings.

The Chair brought the meeting to a close.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday 28th September.


  • Audrey MacDougall to investigate what data can be provided on student contacts. - continued
  • the ‘Deep dive’ session to be held on increasing the uptake of vaccinations and the session on student messaging to consider next steps following on from the Covid Messaging for Students Roundtable Event, are to be combined and arrangements are to be made for the meeting to be held immediately following the next EAG meeting on (provisionally) 28th September 2021
  • the group formed to consider guidance around student placements is to provide input when the next advice notes are prepared
  • SG to provide an update following the requesting of additional information from the sector on key areas identified in Covid readiness returns analysis
  • SG to provide update following analysis of PBSA readiness returns
  • Group to provide a paper to help assess experience against what might be expected, with SG Covid Analysis Division
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