Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 29 March 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges, held on 29 March 2022.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory group members

  • Prof Linda Bauld (Chair)
  • Prof Brigid Daniel 
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Prof Julie Fitzpatrick
  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Prof Stephen Reicher
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Jon Vincent
  • Dr Eileen Scott
  • Dr Ellie Hothersall


  • Linda McKay
  • Kathy Johnston
  • Dr Diane Stockton

Independent member on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies

  • Prof Elizabeth Stokoe, University of Loughborough

SG Covid Ready Society Division

  • Marion McCormack
  • Laura Merenciano

SG Covid Analysis Division

  • Brett MacGillivray

SG (observing)

  • Craig Robertson
  • Stevie Boal
  • William Quinn
  • Euan Shields
  • Idris Akormadu
  • Steven Scott
  • Keira McCutcheon
  • Fraser Syme
  • Nicolas White
  • Evangelia Nakou
  • Caroline Pretty
  • Harriet Luto
  • Gery McLaughlin
  • Keith Fernie


  • John Keenan
  • Alistair Imlach

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The meeting was Chaired by Prof Linda Bauld. The Chair welcomed Liz Stokoe, Professor of Social Interaction, Loughborough University, alongside Scottish Government officials from the COVID-19 Ready Society Division, Laura Merenciano, Policy Manager, and Marion McCormack, Deputy Director. The Chair thanked everyone for their participation.

Minutes of last meeting and matters arising

Sub-group members were asked for any comments on the draft minutes. One correction was required to note Brigid Daniel as an apology. All were content for the minutes to be published online otherwise.

The Chair updated members on the following:

  • the Wider Harms paper has now been circulated with stakeholders including members of the Advanced Learning COVID-19 Recovery Group (CRG) and feedback is being sought. The paper is also in the process of being published on the SG website but some technical difficulties have slowed the process
  • the Chair thanked Prof Stephen Reicher for sharing two pieces of documentation relating to ventilation ahead of the meeting
  • the CRG met on 8th March and agreed that the frequency of meetings should move from fortnightly to monthly, in a similar way to the Expert Advisory Group (EAG). The CRG discussed the updated guidance review and the work of the CRG is expected to refocus on the nine guiding principles that are set out in the guidance update, helping to manage the risks arising from COVID-19
  • the Chair highlighted the Pandemic Impact Survey from the Cross Party Group of Children and Young People as a useful evidence piece that aligns well with the work of the sub-group on the wider harms. The document is available on SLACK for EAG members
  • the Chair summarised the First Minister’s statement from 15 March, highlighting that from Monday 21 March, the remaining domestic legal measures will be lifted and replaced with appropriate guidance. Face coverings on public transport and in certain indoor settings will remain a legal requirement for now. Also discussed was the changes to testing and that from 18 April the general public will no longer be advised to test twice weekly and PCR test sites and contact tracing will be withdrawn from the end of April

COVID-19 surveillance update

Dr Eileen Scott summarised the latest figures, vaccine uptake, testing outcomes, incidents in FE/HE, symptom surveillance and outcomes:

  • vaccine uptake data shows 84% of 17 to 21 year olds have received two vaccine doses and 48.8% in that age range have received three vaccine doses. Slides showing rates of vaccine uptake over time showed rates to be increasing slowly and nearing a plateau
  • Seroprevalance data estimates that 94% of 16 to 25 year olds currently have antibodies to COVID-19 infection
  • ONS infection survey results modelled infection rates over time are showing an increase due to the BA.2 variant. However, infection rates in young adults have started to decline
  • hospital and ICU admissions for young adults continue to be very low compared to the population average. For example, cumulative rates of hospital admissions for 18 to 19 year olds is 283.5 per 100,000 compared with a whole population rate of 1029.7 per 100,000
  • data from university accommodation postcode analysis show that cases in those areas rose slightly but is overall fairly consistent

Modelling: projections for the academic year

Brett MacGillivray updated members on recent modelling outputs summarising that:

  • currently the R rate is estimated to be between 1.0 and 1.3
  • forecasting is becoming more challenging due to measures being removed from guidance and changes to testing advice
  • hospital occupancy rates are continuing to rise and it is uncertain how long this will continue for. The actual rates are trending within the central projection
  • ICU occupancy rates are trending low compared to modelled projections
  • geographical data indicates high infection levels across the country with 24 out of 29 local authorities expected to exceed 500 cases out of 100,000
  • Scottish Government will move to publishing “Modelling the Epidemic” fortnightly from 31 March

In discussion, the following points were made in response to both presentations:

  • Jon Vincent asked Dr Scott whether college accommodation is included in the student accommodation postcode analysis. Dr Scott to investigate with the relevant team and report back to the group
  • members acknowledged that while infection rates and evidence of severe illness of the student related age-groups were low, there continues to be pressure on the NHS due to COVID-19, alongside other factors
  • members expressed an interest in SG officials reporting how the change in testing advice for Further and Higher Education staff and students is being received by stakeholders. SG officials to report back at the next sub-group meeting

COVID-19 Safety Signage Scheme – pilots

Prof Stephen Reicher and Prof Elizabeth Stokoe, introduced the “Scores on the Doors” COVID-19 Safety Signage Scheme currently being piloted at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Key points included:

  • well ventilated environments promote high cognitive performance
  • single signage would be placed at entry points to provide ventilation/air quality information to space users, prior to accessing a space, room or building
  • further information would then be accessible using a QR code for space users to review more detailed information around ventilation / air quality
  • there are three proposed versions of the scheme:
    • monochrome signage displaying ventilation / air information
    • colour coded (red, amber and green) signage displaying ventilation / air information alongside suggested behavioural mitigations such as opening windows, mask wearing or social distancing
    • monochrome signage displaying ventilation / air information alongside suggested behavioural mitigations such as opening windows, mask wearing or social distancing
  • Prof Stokoe shared various draft signs, including a sample of the design used in the current pilot

Marion McCormack and Laura Merenciano presented slides on the “COVID-19 Safety Signage Pilot Scheme” proposed by the COVID-19 Ready Society Division of Scottish Government. Key points included:

  • the scheme is proposed to work similarly to the “Scores on the Doors” pilot
  • the scheme will work on a voluntarily basis with organisations undertaking a self-assessment process to gather the information required. Both the signage and supporting website will be accessible by QR codes or URLs placed on signage
  • users will be informed of recommended behaviours, ventilation and air quality
  • work is still underway, with engagement from marketing and communications colleagues, to design a singular sign template which conveys key information clearly to space users
  • Marion and colleagues are currently planning pilots in Summer 2022 across a range of sectors including universities and colleges, to seek feedback and the main scheme will launch during Winter 2022

In discussion the following points were made:

  • the process of self-assessing spaces is a useful exercise for organisations to undertake an examination of their estate and air quality to identify risk. This will empower institutions to implement mitigations and enable space users to make decisions based on the available information
  • the effectiveness of a signage scheme operating in isolation to influence behaviours in the long term was questioned by some members and there was concern that students might quite quickly start to ignore signage. Actively challenging student behaviour in FE/HE settings was considered more likely to result in positive behavioural change
  • engagement and social influence across peer groups on campus would be useful in terms of designing signage most likely to engage students
  • although the scheme will provide space users useful information, within the FE/HE sector, space users may not have the same ability to choose whether to use that space without causing operational disruption to institutions
  • if signage indicates a space is below a certain standard such as ‘Amber’ in the RAG rating system, it may cause anxiety amongst space users disproportionate to the actual risk presented once advised mitigations are implemented. This could potentially cause issues with staff
  • behavioural advice displayed by signs may prove challenging for institutions to enforce as the wider population moves away from any legally required COVID-19 mitigations following the legal requirement to wear masks. There is also the risk of amplifying inequalities

Long COVID-19

The Chair proposed that the group reschedule the discussion on Long Covid to the next EAG meeting. No objections were raised.

AOB and close

The next meeting will be on Tuesday 26 April 2022. Members are invited to share any questions in advance of the meeting.

The Chair brought the meeting to a close, thanking all members for their time.


  • Wider Harms paper to be published on SG website
  • Dr Eileen Scott to ascertain whether college accommodation is included in the student accommodation postcode analysis
  • John Keenan to invite health colleagues to contribute to the Long COVID-19 agenda item scheduled for the next EAG meeting
  • SG officials to provide an update on the withdrawal of asymptomatic testing for colleges and universities
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