Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 28 September 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 28 September 2021.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group members

  • Prof Linda Bauld (Chair)
  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Prof Brigid Daniel 
  • Prof Devi Sridhar
  • Dr Diane Stockton
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Dr Eileen Scott
  • Arlene Reynolds (covering for Prof Marion Bain)
  • Dr Audrey MacDougall


  • Linda McKay
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Prof Stephen Reicher
  • Gary Gillespie
  • Prof Marion Bain

SG (observing)

  • Stevie Boal
  • Nicolas White
  • Craig Robertson
  • Michelle Isalo
  • Alan Sloan
  • William Quinn


  • John Keenan
  • Sarah Wotton

Items and actions

1. Welcome and introductions

The meeting was chaired by Linda Bauld. Sincere thanks were given to the outgoing Chair Prof Carol Tannahill for her work with the group. The Chair thanked everyone for their participation. The Chair also introduced and welcomed Arlene Reynolds to the meeting who was standing in for Prof Marion Bain.

2. 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.

Linda provided feedback on vaccine uptake, the vaccine certification programme and compliance with face covering requirements following attendance at the Covid 19 Advanced Learning Recovery Group.

On responses to the Cabinet Secretary’s letter, Craig summarised that Colleges and Universities have responded positively and provided detailed and comprehensive feedback.

Members will input on student placements guidance once timelines are established.

Audrey informed members that the Scottish Contact Survey for individuals aged 18-29 shows a mean of six contacts per person, however, there is variation. Students in general have only slightly higher ranges of contacts than other individuals in this age range.

Nicolas summarised there has been a low response to the Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) readiness returns. Of those returned, they were positive and detailed. The returns will be raised again with PBSAs to gain a fuller picture.

John will reschedule the communications for students and vaccine uptake meetings.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • the role and title of the group along with its interactions with other Advisory Groups were discussed. This group continues to have a fundamental role and more will be done to join up with other Advisory Groups. Terms of References agreed in the first meeting were referred to and will be circulated.
  • the group discussed focussing on longer term planning
  • the group discussed exploring if first year students, who have had disrupted learning in previous years due to Covid 19, are experiencing any additional issues including wider wellbeing, mental health and assessment.

3. Modelling: projections for start of the new AY: Audrey MacDougall, Scottish Government  

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

  • the R number, number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths continues to decline
  • the Scottish Contact Survey shows a decrease by 6% in average number of contacts. The biggest increase in interactions is with those aged 18-29, this is as expected with the return of universities
  • the number of people who say they are wearing face masks remains high.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • more work is being done to improve the quality and understanding of Waste Water data
  • there is real interest in Long Covid on an ongoing basis, particularly in the wider body of evidence (national and international) to better understand patient groups and risks.

4. 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.

  • 77% of individuals aged 17-21 have had their first dose and 54% have had a second dose, estimates for student vaccine uptake are slightly higher.
  • rates are overall declining in Scotland and antibody levels for 16-25yrs are 75% and continuing to increase
  • there is no indication that the return to university has caused an increase in case numbers

In discussion the following points were made:

  • the group expressed interest in upcoming postcode analysis data on student accommodation

5. Discussion on the key variables that will determine the impact of HE/FE return on case rates: Prof Linda Bauld (Chair)

Linda Bauld introduced the paper on key variables on the impact of Covid.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • the group agreed the tool was useful to demonstrate factors in relation to R.
  • the visual tool could be modified to:
    • demonstrate how contacts are driven by policy announcements, times of year and settings e.g. indoors vs outdoors and vaccinated vs. unvaccinated
    • demonstrate inequalities and susceptibilities – may require the use of 3-D graphs, but if not feasible, add supporting text consider language used
    • capture the environment of students facilitating adherence
    • include the impact of vaccine waning and behaviours of interaction with the virus
    • consider impacts of the environment e.g. ventilation and temperature

6. Discussion on Maintaining Compliance with the increasing numbers of face covering exemptions: All members discussion

Linda Bauld summarised the national guidance on face covering exemptions.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • colleges and universities can encourage compliance with face coverings by:
  • collective discussion
  • ensuring signage is available and easily visible
  • ensuring staff are leading by example in their use of face masks
  • providing face masks for students
  • communicating the possibility of sanctions
  • support academic and non-academic staff to have conversations to challenge the use of face masks
  • making reminder announcements to wear face masks

7. AOB and close

Discussion Points for consideration by the group in future meetings:

  • longer term activity e.g. Winter planning, Christmas and the student return
  • first year students - are there wider harms to be considered for them
  • testing data, student assessments, the health and wellbeing of students and student absence
  • the sharing of best practice among the College and University sector
  • a summary of national and international academic literature on the College and University sectors and a review on mental health impacts on the student population.

The Chair brought the meeting to a close.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday 12th October.


  • circulation of the Terms of Reference to the group
  • provision of an update following analysis of PBSA readiness returns once more are received.
  • the ‘Deep dive’ session to be held on increasing the uptake of vaccinations is to be rescheduled
  • update the key variables that will determine the impact of HE/FE return on case rates
  • update the group on how best practice is shared among the sector
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