Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 22 June 2021

Published: 2 Aug 2021
Date of meeting: 22 Jun 2021
Date of next meeting: 6 Aug 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 22 June 2021.

Published:
2 Aug 2021
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 22 June 2021

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group members:

  • Prof Julie Fitzpatrick (Chair)
  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Linda McKay
  • Dona Milne
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Prof Brigid Daniel 
  • Prof Marion Bain

Apologies: 

  • Prof Carol Tannahill
  • Prof Stephen Reicher
  • Prof Devi Sridhar
  • Gary Gillespie

Public Health Scotland:

  • Dr Diane Stockton
  • Eileen Scott

SG (observing):

  • Audrey MacDougall
  • Marianne Emler
  • Daniel Kleinberg
  • Nicolas White
  • Keith Fernie
  • William Quinn
  • Elaine Drennan
  • Louise Feenie

Secretariat

  • Craig Robertson
  • Susan Pryde
  • Fraser Syme
  • Idris Akormadu

Items and actions

Welcome

The meeting was chaired by Julie Fitzpatrick. The Chair welcomed members and thanked everyone for their participation.     

Minutes of last meeting and matters arising

The sub-group were asked for any comments/amendments on the minutes of the second meeting prior to their finalisation and publication. 

Action:

  • members to provide any comments/amendments by email to the secretariat by close of business, Wednesday 23rd June

The sub-group were asked to provide clarification on the paragraph relating to institutions providing support for international students arriving from amber list countries, and if this support would only apply to those students staying in halls of residence or if it would extend to those moving into private rented accommodation. 

The sub-group were also asked to consider if any further advice was necessary on managed isolation for students arriving from red list countries; and to consider if the formation of a small sub-group to consider this would be helpful. 

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • institutions have a duty of care to their students and it is important that international students are able to self-isolate effectively upon their arrival in Scotland – they should be at least made aware of what to expect when they arrive in the country, and be given a point of contact and access to advice
  • institutions have very limited influence over private rented accommodation, and with the possibility that students from different institutions could be living in the same private rented accommodation, it is important that the level of support offered by institutions is equitable
  • clarification of the relevant paragraph of the earlier advice would be beneficial, perhaps suggesting these students should be supported ‘wherever possible’
  • the input of institutions into how they will address these issues would be helpful
  • there was agreement that institutions should have accommodation available for international students who arrive early in the summer and plans in place to provide a point of contact, access to advice and support “wherever possible”
  • there is evidence of good practice from last year in terms of putting in place excellent support for international students, such as delivering food and checking on their welfare. This type of support could be encouraged for institutions expecting the arrival of international students
  • it was agreed that the formation of an additional sub-group was not required to consider these issues but an impact review on student mental health and wellbeing from last year may be helpful

Action:

  • secretariat to prepare an update to the earlier advice reflecting clarification on  the paragraph on institutions supporting international students from amber list countries on arrival and circulate for comments

Craig Robertson provided an update on the First Minister’s statement which was taking place at the same time – announcing that all areas are expected to move to Level 0 from 19 July 2021, meaning there would be no physical distancing restrictions outdoors, and indoor distancing restrictions would be reduced to 1 metre.  All areas are expected to move beyond Level 0 from 9 August 2021 with a gateway condition that all adults aged 40 and above will have had their second vaccination (and the vaccine has been given time to take effect); with certain baseline mitigations remaining in place, such as face coverings and hand hygiene etc.

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • this is a significant development for institutions as many restrictions are expected to be removed ahead of students returning for the next academic year.

Student surveillance dashboard update

Diane Stockton delivered a presentation on the student surveillance dashboard highlighting the number of Covid cases as of 21 June 2021 and the rise in cases for those aged between 16 and 21. The number of hospitalisations is significantly higher for those who are unvaccinated than those who have been vaccinated; with most hospitalisations being under 40 years old. 37.9% of 18-29 year olds have had one dose of vaccine, and 16.5% have had two doses. Data from England (up to 13 June 2021) shows that the biggest number of cases is in the 18-21 age group. 

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • it would be useful to see the data on symptomatic and asymptomatic cases and also on Long Covid, although the definition of Long Covid still requires refinement
  • the point was made that Long Covid is not of significant concern in children and young people compared with other harms
  • younger people are generally receiving the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which is helpful as one dose of these vaccines is considered to be more effective than one dose of the Astrazeneca vaccine. Clinically, younger people tend to have good immunity with just one vaccine dose

Action:

  • Eileen Scott to look at available data on Long Covid

Discussion on scenario mitigations for next AY: blended learning (levels 0-2) 

The sub-group were invited to discuss the paper on mitigations in Blended Learning (Levels 0-2).

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • general agreement that things had progressed considerably since the paper was drafted, and particularly in light of the First Minister’s announcement that day, so the paper would benefit from a redraft
  • there may be a challenge in dealing with behavioural issues among students, with potential issues if asking students to adhere to restrictions that are not in place across wider society. It is important that students are not stigmatised in the process
  • there is a requirement to collate what has been learned from good practice regarding interventions and the careful messaging required around these. It was suggested that the Compliance Advisory Group may be able to offer insight regarding adherence, while Universities Scotland may be able to help collate lessons learned. It was considered important that students’ views should be sought on how to communicate messaging around compliance
  • colleges begin their new term before universities and there may also be issues there around inequality and deprivation, for example, in that cohort compared to university students
  • colleges have a considerable number of school pupils on their campuses, and there are a significant number of students under 18 years of age at both colleges and universities; with Scottish students often being younger than their counterparts in other areas of the UK - it would be helpful if JCVI took this into account when formulating their guidance
  • potential solutions were suggested, to reduce the risk of increased infections, whilst recognising that the biggest risk is in the period at the start of Term 1, such as delaying the start of in-person learning, and possibly closing halls of residence for this period, to ensure that all students have received their second dose of vaccination; limiting a delayed start to first year students; and having online learning only for the first few weeks of the new term (noting some courses begin earlier than others)
  • institutions have long planning cycles and will already be at an advanced stage in their planning for the new term; and it was agreed that it would be helpful to obtain Universities Scotland’s input
  • the relationship between ventilation and temperature could be problematic in the colder months where windows being open would reduce the temperature inside and allow the virus to live for longer
  • even once there are no physical distancing restrictions there will still be a requirement for ventilation and this may result in parts of campuses being partially rendered unusable due to the inability to ventilate them adequately. Guidance must show that campuses will not be back to normal  and operating possibly at only 70% of capacity
  • it was agreed that experts in public health and virology, for example, may be required to address issues around ventilation at a future meeting. Cath Noakes from SAGE was also suggested as a possible future guest on this topic. However, it was accepted that this is a complex area with little scope to change existing buildings/facilities on campus but that ensuring fewer people in a shared airspace was possible
  • the introduction of a risk reduction toolkit was suggested and could cover many student behaviours; and if such things already exist then collating the best practice from them could be helpful

Action:

  • Craig Robertson to present the suggestion of a delay to in-person learning and closure of halls for a limited period at the start of term to Covid Leads group and report back to the sub-group

Date of next meeting

The next meeting will be held on Tuesday 6 July 2021.