Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 9 November 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 9 November 2021.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory group members

  • Prof Linda Bauld (Chair)
  • Prof Brigid Daniel 
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Prof Marion Bain
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Prof Julie Fitzpatrick
  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Gary Gillespie
  • Dr Diane Stockton

College sector guests

  • Andy Witty
  • Liz Connolly
  • Jonny Pearson
  • Shona Struthers

SG covid analysis division

  • Dr Audrey MacDougall


  • Prof Steven Reicher
  • Dr Ellie Hothersall
  • Linda McKay
  • Dr Eileen Scott

SG (observing)

  • Craig Robertson
  • Stevie Boal
  • Michelle Iisalo
  • Alan Sloan
  • William Quinn
  • Holly Takenzire
  • Marianne Emler
  • Iona Frost
  • Keith Fernie
  • Louise Feenie
  • Alistair Imlach


  • 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 four college colleagues for their attendance.

Student surveillance dashboard update

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

  • 80% of individuals aged 17-21 years have had their first vaccine and approximately 62% have had two vaccines,these figures are believed to be higher for university and college students
  • antibody rates for 16-25 year olds in Scotland is almost 90% and continuing to increase
  • vaccine waning is a key driver for getting the booster vaccine to the most vulnerable people, recent data demonstrates that the booster vaccine increases vaccine effectiveness to over 90%
  • hospital admissions have plateaued and the number of hospitalised individuals aged 18-21 years remains low, there has been an increase in cases amongst individuals aged five and 11 years and a slight increase for individuals aged 12-19 years
  • analysis of coronavirus (COVID-19) 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 versus 8% last year) between August and October 2021, compared with the same time in 2020

Modelling: projections for the academic year

Audrey MacDougall stated that there have been no notable changes to modelling projections since the last meeting. Audrey delivered a presentation on daily cases by local authority by specimen date and made the following points:

  • over the last 14 days there has been fluctuation in case rates at approximately 2,500 cases per day
  • positivity rates for the whole of Scotland show no change but data at local authority level shows variations. It is important to consider data trends across geographies in addition to data collected based on age and date
  • glasgow currently has relatively few casesthere has been an increase in cases in more remote parts of the country

During the discussion, the following points were made:

  • members are interested in data related to testing and postcodes, Diane Stockton will investigate this
  • whist the data looks stable it is in the context of continuing relatively high numbers of cases showing a slight increase
  • the increase in cases in individuals aged five and 11 years is likely due to a change in mixing
  • seroprevalence levels in the younger age groups is approximately 30%
  • case numbers are likely to remain high compared to individuals aged 12 years and above
  • JCVI advice on individuals aged 12-17 years receiving second doses is expected imminently

Discussion on students and consideration of wider harms continued

Linda emphasised that the focus of this particular discussion should be on the wider harms and impacts on students in the next few months.

During the discussion, the following points were made:

  • experiences of the sector were summarised by college colleagues and a detailed discussion took place on key themes relating to: disruption to student learning; student mental health and wellbeing and financial support:
    • there is a need for a continued cautious approach in the new year emphasising the government’s messaging on caution while recognising for priority groups, that colleges may be able to deliver what they need to within the ‘level 0 framework’ with mitigations remaining in place 
    • there is however, concern about the impact that a continued cautious approach will have on students in the longer term especially if they are vulnerable, have additional needs or require face-to-face practical course experience, colleges should be trusted and respected to make the right decisions
    • for some students, it is the third academic year of disrupted learning and face to face learning remains vital for many students
    • in prioritising some practical subjects for face to face learning over others, some students may be disadvantaged
    • there is a view from colleges that they are currently unable to have the number of students on campus that they require
    • there has been a significant decrease overall in student numbers enrolled in courses but these decreases do not necessarily reflect the varying course demand across subjects e.g. construction is oversubscribed
    • this decrease is likely resulting from a lack of face-to-face education, students choosing to stay at school, entering university or entering the young person’s guarantee scheme or job market, this is leading to lost education experiences and there is concern that students might take up employment without returning to education
    • many college courses require students to have practical experience 
    • the opportunity for placements has reduced as businesses have closed or no longer want to host students, without these course elements, students may receive a qualification without developing the necessary skills leading to social and economic implications
    • a large proportion of college students are from lower SIMD areas and many will therefore be from particularly vulnerable groups
    • college can be the only safe space for some students, digital poverty and lack of digital connectivity prevent the ability of some students to engage with online learning and some students are becoming disengaged with online courses
    • concern was raised about students and the college sector being treated differently from wider society e.g. students requiring one meter physical distancing in a college classroom setting but not in other settings that they are attending e.g. nightclubs, pubs and schools
    • social skills development is being impacted by disrupted learning and some students are having difficulty understanding how to behave on campus because they have not been adequately socialised. This is affecting students longer term and will impact on their future e.g. higher education and employment opportunities
    • there has been an increase in the numbers of students withdrawing from full-time further education courses
    • flexible support from the scottish funding council was welcomed by the college sector and this flexibility would be welcomed longer term, even if student retention targets are not met
    • mental health issues among staff and students have significantly increased, there has been an increase in the number of students disclosing mental health issues and disabilities 
    • Some students with additional support needs are unable to attend college and ESOL students are not receiving language exchange further exacerbating mental health issues
    • funding for mental health from scottish government has been provided and consideration should be given to extending the duration of this provision
    • there needs to be careful consideration of any targeted funding for student support, learning throughout life and careers support and guidance in order to support young people who want to re-engage with education later on in life
  • members would welcome information about vaccine uptake and testing in college students and data on this is unknown currently
  • members welcomed the insights and evidence provided by college colleagues and would welcome further written comments, the chair thanked college representatives for their contributions
  • the chair has met with community learning and development colleagues and will meet with trade unions representatives
  • student representatives will be invited to the next meeting

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:

  • the winter advice note has been published and meetings are taking place this week between the cabinet secretary and college and university principals
  • the universities scotland written submission was well received by members
  • members are waiting for advice on ventilation from the Short Life Working group
  • the meeting on communications for students and vaccine uptake is still to be arranged
  • A discussion took place on the co-determinants of R diagram which was updated to capture data changes and wider inequalities. During the discussion, the following points were made:
    • Audrey will share additional comments on the diagram based on data updates
    • Linda will consider how to incorporate wider setting contexts, socio-economic issues, access to support, targeted financial support and the digital divide
    • the updated diagram will be shared with the advanced learning covid recovery group

Aob and close

The chair brought the meeting to a close. The next meeting will be on Tuesday 23 November and student representatives will be invited to join.


  • Diane Stockton will investigate if there is any data relating to testing by postcode
  • college representatives can provide an additional written submission to members
  • the deep dive session to be held on increasing the uptake of vaccinations will be rescheduled
  • consider the recommendations by the Short Life Working group on ventilation when available
  • Audrey will share additional comments on the co-determinants of r diagram based on data updates
  • Linda will consider how to update the co-determinants of r diagram to incorporate wider setting contexts, socio-economic issues, access to support, targeted financial support and the digital divide
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