Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 23 November 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges on the 23 November 2021.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group members

  • Prof Linda Bauld (Chair)
  • Prof Brigid Daniel 
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Dr Eileen Scott
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Prof Julie Fitzpatrick
  • Dr Ellie Hothersall
  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Dr Diane Stockton
  • Prof Steven Reicher
  • Kathy Johnston (standing in for Gary Gillespie)

SG Covid Analysis Division

  • Iona Currie (standing in for Audrey MacDougall)

Student Representatives

  • Lottie Doherty
  • Joshua Sutcliffe
  • Matt Crilly
  • Rose Dodgson
  • Bernie Savage
  • Lori Templeton
  • Francesca Meneghetti


  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Daniel Kleinberg

SG (observing)

  • Craig Robertson
  • Stevie Boal
  • Alan Sloan
  • William Quinn
  • Holly Takenzire
  • Nicolas White
  • Marianne Emler


  • John Keenan
  • Sarah Wotton

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The meeting was chaired by Linda Bauld. The Chair thanked everyone for their participation emphasising thanks to the seven student representatives for their attendance. The Chair welcomed Kathy Johnston who is standing in for Gary Gillespie and Iona Currie who is standing in for Audrey MacDougall. The Chair reminded everyone to treat information shared at the meeting in confidence.

Modelling: projections for start of the new AY

Iona Curries delivered a presentation on recent modelling outputs, summarising that:

  • the most recent data estimates the value of R is between 0.9-1.1 and there are between 4700 to 6100 people becoming infected per day
  • there are 29 local authorities expected to exceed 100 cases per 100,000 and 10 local authorities are expected to exceed 300 cases per 100,000, with at least 75% probability
  • the Scottish Contact Survey shows an increase in contacts by 25% over the previous two weeks. Mean contacts within work settings and amongst all age groups have increased, particularly in individuals aged 18 to 29.
  • it is estimated that between 78,000 and 162,000 individuals will self–classify as having Long Covid symptoms, an increase from last week

Student Surveillance Dashboard Update

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

  • almost 81% of individuals aged 17 to 21and almost 78% of individuals aged 22 to 29 have had their first vaccine and approximately 64% of 17 to 21 year olds have had their second vaccine
  • there is over 80% uptake of the booster vaccine among the clinically vulnerable and individuals over 60 years old and declining hospitalisation numbers and cases for individuals aged 60 to 80 plus, as a result of the booster vaccine
  • there are low hospital admissions and numbers of cases amongst individuals aged 18 to 21. There has been a slight increase in hospitalisations of individuals aged 20-21
  • antibody rates for 16 to 25 year olds in Scotland are almost 90%

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • there is no data on the length of vaccine booster effects but it is increasing antibody levels. Online booking is enabling flexibility for booster uptake.
  • there is interest in international data on mitigations and the prevalence of COVID-19 within colleges and universities and institutions operating at full capacity. Diane Stockton will explore this.
  • long Covid amongst the student population is of interest to members
  • Matt Crilly offered to help with promoting the student vaccination programme. Linda invited Matt to join a discussion on vaccine communications. Reflecting on the communication strategy of COP 26 could inform this discussion.

Discussion on ‘Students and consideration of wider harms’ continued

Linda introduced the discussion and emphasised that the focus should be on the wider harms and impact on students in the next six months.

During the discussion, the following points were made:

  • The wider harms impacts on students were summarised by student representatives and a detailed discussion took place on major themes relating to: disruption to student learning; student mental health and wellbeing; social impacts and financial considerations:
    • research recently published by the Mental Health Foundation was summarised: 74% of students had low wellbeing and more students were dissatisfied with their learning than satisfied, nearly 20% of students had had suicidal ideation in the six months prior to the survey, some students ate less as result of a lack of money and 1 in 10 students had inadequate internet access
    • students on practical courses were significantly impacted by the pandemic. There is particular concern for students requiring placements to complete their studies. Institutions are prioritising these students for in-person learning. Students who are not on practical courses are being disadvantaged and are receiving less in-person teaching and socialising. One college delayed the start of their academic term to enable deferred students on practical courses to complete their final year, delaying the ability to start the new cohort of practical students on campus. Dentistry students are required to complete an extra year of study without additional support.
    • students are demanding more in-person teaching and on campus socialising e.g. a poll of over 400 Strathclyde university students showed that 75% want more in-person teaching. The pandemic demonstrated that many elements of university courses can be carried out online.
    • college and university students are confused about COVID-19 rules. Some students are anxious about breaking restrictions due to guidance changes during the course of the pandemic. The difference between Covid rules in high schools and on college campus is exacerbating this confusion. Consistent, concise and well-timed communication to students is required.
    • the pandemic has been isolating for many students leading to fewer developed friendships. Social reintegration of students on campus for in-person learning and socialising is challenging. This is damaging the social development of many younger adults and 1st and 2nd year students are becoming noticeably less vocal on issues of student life. Some college students are not getting opportunities to question lecturers or peers through online learning and are missing out on social skill development necessary for university and employment. This is affecting student mental health. There are many international students who do not have a recognised vaccine and struggle to get a vaccine passports resulting in confusion among students about what they are able to participate in. Facilitating safe, socially distanced, in-person student gatherings through the procurement of large scale venues may be beneficial.
    • students from more deprived and those from financially disadvantaged backgrounds have been impacted more. Super Priority Visas and increased costs have harmed students financially, especially for international students.
    • some students are no longer attending online lectures because of Wi-Fi, Pay-As-You-Go data and equipment costs. Some college students are using Smartphones to study online. Some students from rural communities have had limited internet access.
    • there has been an increase in discrimination and intolerance towards students with disabilities, particularly invisible disabilities. Many have felt compelled to disclose their disability to manage face covering exemption situations.
    • there is concern about tolerance levels of people’s views and great concern about mental health impacts. There has been an increase in reports from students and staff about rudeness among colleagues.
    • there are concerns about the level of mental health support available
    • generally, college students are from more disadvantaged and less academic backgrounds. Students see college as a place to gain confidence and these vulnerable students need extra face-to-face care. Student parents at college require attention as they lack a division between home, work and study. College students who are not on practical courses have had over a year of online study, their mental health is suffering.
    • colleges need to get more students back on campus. There has been an increase in students dropping out of college, particularly from short courses and some colleges have new students starting in January.
    • having vaccine busses on campus could be beneficial to increase vaccine uptake and vaccine booster uptake
    • access to learning resources was impacted during the pandemic, particularly for remote institutions with students unable to access books in libraries, thus affecting the student learning. This has improved but remains a concern.
    • in rural student halls, there has been a deterioration in mental health leading to an increase in substance misuse. Some students are struggling to get accommodation and are removed from their courses if they cannot attend in person.
    • understanding the determinants of decreasing mental health is required. Think Positive research published in 2020, involving over 3000 students, identified that 48.9% of students believed lack of money and financial pressures had a negative impact on their mental health.
  • Members welcomed the insights and evidence provided by the student representatives and welcome further written comments. The Chair and members thanked the student representatives for attending.
  • Members discussed the following points:
    • members could explore the wider impacts of COVID-19 on early career researchers and staff new to the workforce and focus on short term interventions to improve the student experience. There is particular concern for colleges students.
    • more information would be welcomed from the sector on successful interventions that are taking place already, including student-led interventions
    • members suggested that having established review points might be helpful

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 provided an update on actions from the previous meeting:

  • useful written submissions from College leaders and Community Learning and Development representatives were received and Marion and Linda had a useful meeting with Union representatives
  • recommendations from the Short Life Working Group on Ventilation were shared
  • members will discuss communications for student vaccine uptake
  • Diane will look at data on testing by postcode

AOB and close

The Chair brought the meeting to a close. The next meeting will be on Tuesday 7 December 2021.


  • Matt Crilly to share Strathclyde University Student data and is invited to attend the next EAG meeting on 7th December
  • Diane to investigate data relating to testing by postcode and international data relating to COVID-19 prevalence within colleges and universities
  • all attending student representatives may provide additional written submissions
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