Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 26 October 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 26 October 2021.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory group members

  • Prof Linda Bauld (Chair)
  • Prof Brigid Daniel 
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Dr Eileen Scott
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Dr Audrey MacDougall
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Prof Julie Fitzpatrick
  • Dr Ellie Hothersall
  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Prof Devi Sridhar

University sector guests

  • Dr Lois Fitch
  • Veronica Strachan
  • Brian Green
  • Prof Moira Fischbacher-Smith
  • Dr Kirsty Conlon


  • Dr Diane Stockton
  • Prof Steven Reicher
  • Gary Gillespie

SG (observing)

  • Craig Robertson
  • Stevie Boal
  • Michelle Iisalo
  • Alan Sloan
  • William Quinn
  • Holly Takenzire
  • Nicolas White
  • Gery McLaughlin
  • Iona Frost
  • Alistair Imlach


  • John Keenan
  • Sarah Wotton

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The meeting was chaired by Linda Bauld. The Chair introduced everyone and thanked everyone for their participation emphasising thanks to the five university colleagues for their attendance. The Chair reminded everyone to treat information shared at the meeting in confidence.

Modelling: projections for start of the new academic year

Audrey MacDougall delivered a presentation on recent modelling outputs summarising that:

  • the most recent data estimates the value of R is between 0.8-1.0
  • there are approximately 2,500 cases per day. The number of infections is fluctuating. Hospital occupancy had decreased but now shows a slight increase that is being investigated. ICU actuals are lower than modelled data
  • there are 23 local authorities that are expected to exceed 100 cases per 100k and no local authorities that are expected to exceed 300 cases per 100k with at least 75% probability
  • the Scottish Contact Survey shows a decrease in contacts in the work setting and a decrease in contacts between older people and individuals aged under 18yrs. The number of people going out has increased. The number of people wearing face coverings has slightly decreased, but remains high overall

Student surveillance dashboard and postcode analysis update

Eileen Scott summarised the latest figures, vaccine uptake, testing outcomes, incidents in FE/HE, symptom surveillance and outcomes. Eileen shared data on postcodes identified as containing student accommodation.

  • almost 80% of individuals aged 17-21yrs have had their first vaccine and approximately 60% have had their second dose
  • there has been a decline in the rate of PCR testing across all relevant age groups
  • there has been a continuing gradual decline in case numbers overall. Cases in individuals aged 16-21yrs remain much lower than the number of cases seen in younger age groups. In those aged 18-21yrs, rates are lower than the rates in the adult population, and there is a decrease in hospitalisations, likely due to the vaccination programme
  • analysis of Covid data using postcodes pertaining to university halls of residence and privately rented student accommodation showed a lower number of cases (0.4% of cumulative cases this year vs. 8% last year) between August and October 202, compared with the same time in 2020. No significant outbreaks were identified

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • the positive messages of success with high student vaccinations, engagement with protective behaviours and lower numbers of infections based on the postcode analysis data, should be conveyed to universities and students. Sector insights indicate a higher vaccine uptake among students. Despite the positive picture, there remains uncertainty about the coming weeks
  • modelling takes into account flu and relevant viruses and their impact is uncertain. Concern was expressed about NHS capacity in terms of beds, staffing, winter viruses and wider pressures

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 the impact on students in the next few months.

During the discussion, the following points were made:

  • experiences of the sector were summarised by university colleagues and a detailed discussion took place on key themes relating to: disruption to student learning. student mental health and wellbeing and financial support
  • mental health harms have affected many students. In addition, there has been a cumulative effect of up to three academic years of disruption to learning, affecting students’ capacity to progress. It is being particularly felt this academic year
  • significant social deficits are being reported among younger students who have not socialised as is normally the case, and many demonstrate a lack of safety behaviours and resilience. This is affecting student life, learning and the ability to be resourceful
  • staff have been creative, innovative and adaptive to enable online learning and some of those practices will remain in blended learning and future curriculum planning. Evidence is emerging that adapted assessment has more reported inclusive practises that may assist in closing some identified BAME and disability attainment gaps. There are benefits to virtual learning and societies enabling student reach, flexible study and student contributions. However, some students have disengaged with virtual learning
  • institutions have collaborated with professional bodies and students in decision-making to minimise Covid-19 impacts on students. This has led to improved communication with students as well as improved planning, and should continue
  • there has been an increase in the number of staff and students disclosing disabilities and learning needs, resulting in increased support costs. Emergency student funding provided last year was very welcome and made a difference to student retention and engagement. Captioning for students during lectures and other teaching/training needs to be improved
  • sector planning suggests that the next semester is likely to involve higher levels of in-person learning and campus activity. There is increasing confidence within the sector that this can be managed. Levels of compliance have remained good while increasing on campus learning. Students and staff have appreciated compliance and a cautious approach to date
  • members welcomed the insight and evidence provided by university colleagues. We would welcome further written comments in addition to collated responses submitted to QAA on good practice. The Chair thanked university representatives for their contributions
  • members were informed that College Leaders will attend the next meeting to continue the discussion

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:

  • co-determinants of R will be revisited at the next meeting
  • professional statutory and regulatory bodies accredited courses data has been explored, it is complex and difficult to gain a comprehensive list
  • John Keenan will confirm a date for the meeting on communications for students and vaccine uptake

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • on the Winter Pressures Note:
    • members were in agreement with the content and timing of the advice note
    • working with individual institutions and students, it will be important to communicate the need, and accessible processes for, student Covid-19 testing (both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing)
    • emphasising the positive ways that students have already responded could lead to peer encouragement for vaccine uptake and testing
    • members recognise the need for more students’ face to face teaching and training on campus to address learning and development outcomes. However, this needs to be balanced with ongoing public health concerns. Any increase in on campus contacts should involve a package of mitigation measures that include the sector continuing to strongly encourage vaccine and testing uptake, as well as compliance with wider public health measures
  • members expressed interest in the recommendations on ventilation by the Short Life Working Group and noted the importance of the sector doing all they can on this. Recommendations of the Working Group will be discussed at a future meeting

AOB and close

The Chair brought the meeting to a close. The next meeting will be on Tuesday 9th November and leaders from the College Sector will be joining.


  • the ‘Co-determinants of R’ diagram will be reviewed at the next meeting
  • members can email comments on the Winter Pressures Note by Thursday 28th October
  • the ‘Deep dive’ session to be held on increasing the uptake of vaccinations is to be rescheduled
  • invite College Leaders to the next meeting
  • consider the recommendations by the Short Life Working Group on Ventilation when available
  • university guests to submit additional comments in writing and share collated responses submitted to QAA on good practice
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