Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 3 August 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 3 Aug 2021.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group members:

  • Prof Carol Tannahill (Chair)
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Prof Brigid Daniel 
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Linda McKay
  • Dona Milne
  • Prof Ian Rivers


  • Dr David Caesar
  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Julie Fitzpatrick
  • Gary Gillespie
  • Prof Stephen Reicher
  • Prof Devi Sridhar
  • Dr Diane Stockton

Public Health Scotland:

  • Eileen Scott

SG Covid Analysis Division

  • Mel Giarchi

SG (observing):

  • Craig Robertson
  • Keith Fernie
  • William Quinn
  • Alan Sloan
  • Marianne Emler


  • John Keenan
  • Fraser Syme

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The meeting was chaired by Carol Tannahill. The Chair thanked everyone for their participation and provided an update on the First Minister’s statement on moving beyond level 0 restrictions from 9th August 2021.

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.

Modelling: projections for start of the next academic year: SG Covid Analysis Division                     

Presentation on recent Modelling Outputs. The reduced contact patterns over the summer will increase as schools, colleges and universities return, so will require close monitoring. Modelling on the Delta variant will be more advanced by the time students return for the next academic year.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • the data suggest that a longer phasing of the return of students would have only a relatively small impact on infections compared to wider population behaviours
  • it would be useful to have a more nuanced picture by age, ethnicity and social patterning, as whole population data hide important sub-group differences

Student surveillance dashboard (update): Eileen Scott, Public Health Scotland

Eileen Scott summarised the latest figures, vaccine uptake, testing outcomes, incidents in HE/FE, seroprevalence of antibodies, symptom surveillance and outcomes.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • members have witnessed increased uptake of vaccinations in young people where vaccinations have been offered in a wider range of locations such as local shopping centres, and on ambulance service buses, for example.  This mixed, outreach strategy is to be encouraged
  • it is preferable for students to have been fully vaccinated before returning to campus, rather than arriving without full protection and receiving their vaccination once the academic year has begun. There is a role here for institutions and student bodies in communications with students (importantly including international students) before the start of term
  • the wording of the Student Information Scotland website in relation to vaccinations for international students could be strengthened to reflect this point

Members asked for the COVID surveillance data to be placed in the context of wider health harms, for example on hospitalisation from other causes .

Discussion on “Paper 5.5: Self-Isolation in Universities and Colleges together with Ventilation as a Mitigation for the 21-22 Academic Year”

In the context of moving beyond level 0 restrictions from the 9th of August, the aim of the discussion was to seek advice on the requirement for students to self-isolate once identified as close contacts of positive cases; and on ventilation requirements in colleges and universities.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • there was agreement that as members of the general population are not required to self-isolate if they have been fully vaccinated and are identified as a contact of a positive case, then this should be no different for over-18 students. However, if they have not been fully vaccinated then there should still be the requirement to self-isolate
  • for under-18 students, there was agreement that while they remain unvaccinated,, close contacts of a positive case should isolate and take a PCR test, with self-isolation only then required to continue if the test returns positive
  • there was discussion about consistency with schools guidance, during which it was emphasised that there are significant differences between the school population and that of colleges and universities given the scale of geographical mixing in the latter (international students, different/new networks, new households being formed etc).
  • the risk to students of infection will change across the year – for example, the risk will reduce once groups have stabilised, and more students have been vaccinated
  • the group emphasised that there is a need for strong messaging for students regarding what to do when they have symptoms of Covid
  • the group highlighted that there are many factors which relate to ventilation, such as the age of buildings, the size of groups gathering, the length of time spent in spaces etc. Risk assessments to minimise these combined risks will be required
  • ventilation remains an important area of focus while knowledge and data are gathered in relation to the Delta variant, given uncertainty about its transmission
  • colleges and universities know their estates and are best placed to assess the practical considerations, maximise ventilation and minimise the use of poorly ventilated spaces.    Institutions will also need to attend to implementation issues, applying behavioural science expertise to address the psychosocial dimensions of increased ventilation in shared spaces.
  • it was agreed that although it is difficult for this group to offer specific advice on ventilation, there are clearly benefits to having good ventilation for reasons which go beyond Covid, and that institutions should be strongly encouraged to improve ventilation where possible.  This is one issue on which there is potential to come out of the pandemic in a stronger place. With a range of benefits accruing from improved air quality

Discussion on “Paper 5.6: Compliance, Contingency planning and Outbreak management”

The aim of this discussion was to consider approaches which will provide assurances that colleges and universities have the appropriate mitigations in place as we transition away from prescriptive rules and regulations, and move towards increased personal and organisational responsibility.

In discussion the following points were made:

  • there was strong support for the principle that institutions should be systematically considering their approaches across the areas of (i) minimising risk of infection, (ii) minimising outbreaks/spread, (iii) minimising wider disruption.  Sub-group members advised that the approach should be one for the sector to develop
  • it was strongly recommended that any checklist should be co-produced with student partners, and should become part of routine planning for future pandemic preparedness
  • it would be more powerful if it was made public as a pledge or commitment
  • it would be helpful to establish what has been done so far in order to share best practice, and desktop exercises would be able to flag any gaps in this

AOB and close

  • the Chair brought the meeting to a close
  • further information about the next meeting will follow


  • Eileen Scott, PHS, to provide data that put Covid figures in a wider context.  Where possible, data on social patterning also to be provided
  • an advice note to the Covid Recovery Group will be produced covering the discussions at this meeting
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