Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 20 July 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 20 July 2021.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group members:

  • Prof Carol Tannahill (Chair)
  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Prof Stephen Reicher
  • Linda McKay
  • Prof Brigid Daniel 
  • Dr David Caesar
  • Dona Milne
  • Julie Fitzpatrick
  • Prof Marion Bain


  • Gary Gillespie
  • Dr Diane Stockton

Public Health Scotland:

  • Eileen Scott

SG communities analysis Division:

  • Audrey MacDougall

SG (observing):

Craig Robertson

  • Keith Fernie
  • William Quinn
  • Alan Sloan
  • John Keenan


  • John Aggasild
  • Idris Akormadu

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The meeting was chaired by Carol Tannahill. The Chair thanked everyone for their participation and passed on thanks from the Advanced Learning Covid Recovery Group for the advice presented to that group in a recent meeting. 

Minutes of last meeting and matters arising 

The sub-group were asked for any comments on the draft minutes. All were content with the minutes to be published online. 

Modelling: projections for start of the next AY: Audrey McDougall, SG Covid Analysis Division 

Audrey MacDougall delivered a presentation on ‘Best and Worst Case Scenarios for Covid-19 for the start of the next academic year’.  

  • the Division is looking further into ‘long Covid’. The data are not being examined by age cohort yet. The data appears to be in line with the data from the Office for National Statistics. They are considering how to model forward on that

In discussion the following points were made:

  • modelling included vaccination assumptions, such as number of the population that are vaccinated by that time (% vaccinated) and the effectiveness of the vaccination. Data from last year was used for numbers of students starting study
  • the ‘better’ outcome is based on expecting people to comply with the basic NPIs , hygiene and mask wearing and distancing. Going forward, modelling will factor in the removal of some NPIs but they are complex to extrapolate
  • some members have seen promising data on compliance with NPIs going forward. Would be useful if this could be broken down by age cohort

Student surveillance dashboard (update): Eileen Scott, Public Health Scotland 

Eileen Scott covered 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:

  • it’s important to extrapolate from these data to distil implications for the start of term, and the likely position when students come back to college and university
  • members asked for data on cognitive effects of long covid. This would help institutions support students affected

Discussion on “Paper 4.5: Expert Advisory Group Meeting 4 – Discussion Paper on Mitigations in Universities and colleges during 20-21 Academic Year”

The aim of the discussion was to discuss which mitigations the group thought should be in place for the first weeks as students return, then longer term mitigations. 

In discussion: 

  • many overseas students who are coming to study in Scotland may be confused by different restrictions and mitigation practices in different parts of the UK
  • the point was made that the sub-group was not advocating delaying the start to the academic year, but was instead recommending that face to face teaching should be replaced by online classes during the first few weeks of term.  As much as possible should be done remotely and finer grain solutions put in place to reflect local circumstances and subject-relevant approaches.The case for getting 17 year olds vaccinated is supported by the fact that young people in Scotland tend to start university at an earlier age than  students in England
  • the Beyond Level 0 guidance advises “At the start of term (and beyond for those under 18), institutions are strongly recommended to implement a greater level of protective measures that takes particular account of the profile of vaccination across the population, and concentrations of young people in student accommodation.” There was recognition that everyone will need to adopt a bit more caution in order to protect others
  • thus far outbreak management has been discussed at an institutional level. However this needs to be extended to reflect how students live their lives
  • the mood of young people is that students feel unfairly targeted and unnecessarily isolated. A lot of 16/17 year olds want to be vaccinated and see it as a means to re-engaging more widely with society
  • the rationale for the JCVI advice was recognised.  Restrictions have been made based on real safety concerns. Whilst vaccination uptake is important, JCVI have not recommended vax for under 18 year olds because of the clinical risk/benefit ratio, and that vaccination is not the only measure for protecting people/maintaining safety. Vaccination also does not guarantee protection.
  • we need to be mindful as to how we engage with students – that the messaging is not simply ‘get vaccinated and ensure your safety’ but that there will still be restrictions once you are vaccinated
  • there was broad agreement that differentiated, localised solutions should be considered in order to mitigate the four harms and meet the needs of a mixed profile of learners
  • there was a call for urgency in relation to developing a communications strategy with associated clear messaging aimed at international students  
  • any strategies to mitigate the potential harms of Freshers Week activities should be carried out in collaboration with student bodies
  • an advice note based on members comments on the mitigation paper would be prepared

Discussion on testing: paper from the TestEd team at Edinburgh University

The aim of this discussion was to consider the testing approach introduced by Edinburgh University. The testing subgroup of the Covid-19 Advisory Group has already considered and Edinburgh University are seeking further support from the Scottish Government, including agreement that the university can continue to use this approach in the new academic year, rather than being required to operate an LFD model..

In discussion: 

  • there needs to be some form of reassurance from the testing subgroup on the effectiveness of the new approach in comparison to the LFD test. Also considering the appropriateness of one institution taking a different approach to the others and the key benefits: Price and sample collection 
  • there is a need to ensure that this group is not endorsing any products, which would be beyond its remit. Any advice that is formally given on this matter should come from the test and protect programme board 

AOB and close 

The Chair brought the meeting to a close

Further information about the next meeting will follow.


  • members were asked to submit further responses to paper 4.5 in writing to the secretariat.  Chair to send a letter to the Chief Scientist, Health (chair of testing subgroup) with respect to the TestEd request being considered further
Back to top