Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 8 June 2021

Published: 28 Jun 2021
Date of meeting: 8 Jun 2021
Date of next meeting: 22 Jun 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 8 June 2021.

Published:
28 Jun 2021
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 8 June 2021

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group members:

  • Prof Carol Tannahill (Chair)
  • Prof Chris Chapman
  • Prof Ian Rivers
  • Prof Devi Sridhar
  • Prof Stephen Reicher
  • Gary Gillespie
  • Linda McKay
  • Prof Brigid Daniel 
  • Dr David Caesar

Apologies:

  • Dona Milne
  • Prof Paul Flowers
  • Prof Sheila Rowan
  • Prof Marion Bain

Public Health Scotland:

  • Dr Diane Stockton
  • Eileen Scott

SG (observing):

  • Audrey MacDougall
  • Jamie MacDougall
  • Daniel Kleinberg
  • Nicolas White
  • Keith Fernie
  • William Quinn
  • Elaine Drennan

Secretariat:

  • Susan Pryde
  • Fraser Syme
  • Idris Akormadu

Items and actions

Welcome

The meeting was chaired by Carol Tannahill. The Chair welcomed new members to the group and thanked everyone for their participation.     

Minutes of last meeting and matters arising

The sub-group were asked for any comments/amendments on the minutes of the first meeting and terms of reference prior to their finalisation and publication. 

Action:

  • members to provide any comments/amendments by email to the secretariat by close of business, Wednesday 9th June

Overview of vaccination programme

Jamie MacDougall delivered a presentation on ‘Vaccination Programme – Future Planning’ highlighting the three tranches of vaccination work and the planning work being done for a number of different scenarios. Considerable work is being carried out in the background in relation to scheduling vaccinations (such as updating IT systems), and what recruitment will be required once many of those currently administering vaccinations return to their ‘day job.’ It is anticipated that there will be capacity to vaccinate international students (c.65,000 people) if required. 

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • all over-18s will have been offered their second vaccine by mid-September. The uptake of 90% used in the modelling may be optimistic for a younger cohort (suggestions from members that uptake may be flexibility around JCVI guidance may be beneficial in some circumstances, however, this could be difficult
  • international students are an important part of the university sector’s revenue and student life. Offering them vaccinations on arrival may be helpful, with a suggestion of universities acting as vaccination centres
  • there are a significant proportion of students at college who are either at secondary school, or are full-time at college but are under-18 - a consistent approach with that of the schools subgroup would therefore be helpful. It was noted that 14% of students in FE/HE are aged 16-18, and 17% of undergraduates are under 18
  • it should also be remembered that the college start of term is earlier than university (mid-August rather than September). This means uptake by younger members of the population will be lower at the point when colleges return than it will be when universities return. It was noted that vaccination planning is being driven by how quickly people can be vaccinated, rather than being determined by term times
  • communications with students, as well as flexibility around where they can be vaccinated should help with uptake levels among younger students and those with concerns or questions about vaccination

Modelling: projections for start of the next academic year

Audrey MacDougall delivered a presentation on ‘Best and Worst Case Covid-19 Futures.’ A number of assumptions were made in this modelling work, such as Delta being the dominant variant; being at Level 0 at the end of July; schools opening for the next academic year as planned etc. The best and worst case scenarios used different predictions around new variants, the effectiveness of vaccinations and their uptake. Both scenarios predict a third wave later in the year but of varying sizes.

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • behavioural factors are very important and communication will be key to ensuring this is understood
  • even the best case scenario highlights a significant impact on NHS resources in relation to the number of hospital beds required for Covid patients, while the worst case scenario could result in extremely high demand for hospital beds and ICU capacity
  • we will have a better understanding what hospitalisation data is showing by the next meeting of the sub-group

Action:

  • Audrey MacDougall and her modelling team to meet with Stephen Reicher to discuss the assumptions in the models and the extent to which behaviours affect the profile of the models

Student surveillance dashboard update

It was agreed that due to a shortage of time this agenda item would be revisited at the next meeting of the sub-group.

Discussion on scenario mitigations for next academic year

Carol Tannahill advised the sub-group that the aim is to provide an advice paper to the Covid Recovery Group regarding what mitigations need to be in place for colleges and universities to be able to return as normally as possible for the start of the next academic year. The paper for discussion at the sub-group suggests three scenarios linked to the levels approach as people are familiar with the levels.

Scenario 1 equates to Levels 3 and 4 (restricted blended learning); Scenario 2 equates to Level 2 (blended learning); and Scenario 3 equates to beyond Level 0 – it is hoped that we will be at that level by the start of the next academic year, and the sub-group were asked what guidance would need to be in place for this scenario. The sub-group were asked to consider three settings for this scenario – controlled learning and research environments (labs/lecture theatres etc); student services (canteens/accommodation etc); and social and recreational spaces (sports/bars/clubs etc).

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • there is great variation across the college and university sectors in terms of the size of institutions, the age of campus buildings, the age of students, the numbers of international students, the courses being studied etc. As a result, it may be difficult to produce definitive guidance that works across the sectors on the whole, and therefore creating broad principles which allow for some local flexibility may be the best approach. There may also be regional variations regarding restrictions at the start of the academic year
  • there was agreement that teaching settings, and other on-campus settings can be well managed by the institutions, and those are not where the main risks lie. Although guidance is needed for these ‘formal’ settings, the main challenge is what happens beyond those settings – such  when travelling and in accommodation
  • as not all environments that students find themselves in can be well-controlled, vaccination, testing, tracing and isolation will be key protectors
  • good communications will be vital, and the start of a new academic year provides a good opportunity for this to be at the heart of early engagement with students
  • the students should be involved from the start and student unions may play an important role
  • young people may be less willing to follow guidance if there is a wider feeling across society that ‘the pandemic is over’ – this could be a challenge and emphasises the importance of vaccinating young people quickly
  • for international students from amber and red countries it may be a big ask to expect them to have been fully vaccinated, so doing that on arrival would be helpful, and using a one dose vaccine would also help

Action:

  • the Chair to produce an initial draft of an advice paper for further input and evidence from group members, prior to discussion with the Covid Recovery Group

Date of next meeting

The next meeting will be held on 22nd June.