Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges minutes: 12 January 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Universities and Colleges on 12 January 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
  • Dr Diane Stockton
  • Prof Steve Reicher
  • Prof Ian Rivers


  • Dr Ellie Hothersall
  • Kathy Johnston

Scottish Government COVID-19 Analysis Division

  • Brett MacGillivray (standing in for Audrey MacDougall)

Scottish Government Test & Protect Testing Policy Team

  • Caroline Pretty

Scottish Government (observing)

  • Craig Robertson
  • Stevie Boal
  • William Quinn
  • Gery McLaughlin
  • Holly Takenzire
  • Alistair Imlach
  • Alan Sloan
  • Idris Akormadu
  • Steven Scott
  • Keith Fernie


  • John Keenan
  • Sarah Wotton

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The meeting was chaired by Linda Bauld. Linda welcomed Brett MacGillivray, and Caroline Pretty to the meeting. The Chair thanked everyone for their participation. Dr Ellie Hothersall and Kathy Johnston sent their apologies for the 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 updated members on the following:

  • Linda attended the Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advanced Learning Recovery group (CRG) on 23 December 2021 and shared information on the detailed minute of the Omicron discussion that took place on 21 December with members. Actions from the CRG meeting were mentioned
  • Professor Louise Hayward is invited to discuss work on assessment reform with members in February
  • thanks were given to Professor Ian Rivers for sharing a communication example from the University of Strathclyde
  • Audrey MacDougall is invited to present the Four Worlds scenarios. Members will consider the options for living with COVID-19 at the next meeting

Modelling: projections for the AY

Brett MacGillivray delivered a presentation on recent modelling outputs for the latest COVID-19 Delta and Omicron variants summarising that:

  • the R number for Omicron has increased and is estimated to be between 1.2 and 1.5 and the growth rate R’s are between 4% and 9% in Scotland
  • there are estimated to be between 237 and 507 daily infections in Scotland per 100,000 people, this is equivalent to between 13,000 and 28,000 daily infections
  • the Contact Survey estimates average numbers of contacts to be 5.2, a decrease of 13%. Over the festive period, the largest decrease in contacts was in the work setting and contacts within homes increased by 22%. Approximately 85% of individuals self-reported taking one LFD test within the last seven days and 47% of individuals reported taking at least three. For individuals aged 18 to 29 year olds, 76% reported taking one LFD test in the last seven days
  • Wastewater nationally shows a 71% increase in COVID-19 RNA and the doubling time for the Omicron variant is approximately four days
  • S-gene target failure identifies approximately 90% of cases to be the Omicron variant. This is being monitored

Student surveillance dashboard update

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

  • case data currently represents only PCR confirmed data, affecting confidence in the apparent decline in case numbers
  • individuals aged 18 to 39 years old are showing a decrease in case rates. Almost all cases of COVID-19 in individuals aged 18 to 21 years old are due to the Omicron variant. The proportion of PCR tests that are positive in the 18 to 21 year age group is over 40%, this is beginning to decrease
  • antibody rates are estimated to be 89% for individuals aged 16 to 25 years old. The reinfection rate for the Omicron variant is higher (8%) than the Delta variant (1%)
  • 82% of individuals aged 18 to 21 years old have had one dose of the vaccine and 70% have had two. Approximately 33% of individuals aged 18 to 29 years old have had a Booster vaccine and many individuals aged 18 to 21 years old are not currently eligible for a Booster vaccine 
  • an Eave II study compares the severity of the Omicron variant to the Delta variant. It found that individuals are a third as likely to die from the Omicron variant compared to the Delta variant. Additional studies found the Omicron variant has approximately a third of the severity of the Delta variant. Individuals with the Booster vaccine are also less likely to be hospitalised by the Delta variant, compared to unvaccinated individuals

In discussion, the following points were made:

  • members are interested in data on Omicron transmissibility by age group
  • provisional data on risk ratios shows that individuals who have had a third dose have an approximately two thirds lower initial risk of infection compared to individuals who have had two doses more than six months ago. Data shows that there is a reduction in the risk of infection for individuals vaccinated with one, two or three doses which wanes as weeks progress
  • members are interested in data on cognitive and physical Long-Covid impacts on students and how institutions are responding to this in relation to student progression, performance and course completion. ONS data shows that Long-Covid levels are at 1.73% in the 17 to 24 years age group. This study will be circulated with members. Diane will discuss Long-Covid impacts with the EAVE II group and Linda will raise it at this week’s CRG meeting
  • the Delta variant is still accounting for approximately 10% of cases and should be monitored
  • the latest ONS infection survey shows one in twenty people in Scotland have COVID-19 and there remain very high levels of infection within the population

Omicron variant management discussion

The Chair summarised the discussion paper and referenced the 'Rapid evidence review to inform safe return to campus in the context of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)'. Linda highlighted that policy on mass events will change from 17 January and for the purposes of COVID-19 certification, ‘fully vaccinated’ will include not having a booster if the second dose was administered less than four months ago. This will affect some students. Nearly all learning in Colleges is moving to online learning in the beginning of January. Not all universities have returned yet.

During the discussion, the following points were made:

  • members identified that education is about personal progression and development as well as learning. Linda will share a presentation on social contacts
  • increasing contacts can be done through clubs and societies etc. not just face-to-face teaching. Face-to-face teaching vs. online teaching has become a focus of narrative. Institutions have innovated positively to enable online teaching and the benefits of online teaching should be captured. Members would like further information on the delivery mechanisms of teaching in institutions this semester as well as feedback on online teaching and face-to-face teaching
  • members acknowledged that many universities are going above and beyond guidance on mitigations. The University of Strathclyde is offering students two to four hours of on campus time and maintaining physical distancing measures on campus and in classrooms with a maximum of 50 students in any space. Some professional courses are taking place entirely online before students go to their placements to reduce the possibility of COVID-19 transmission. Glasgow University are adopting a cautious approach and there is an assumption that most staff will be working from home this semester with approximately 10-15% face-to-face teaching for students
  • prior to the emergence of the Omicron, it was estimated that 60% of teaching was taking place face-to-face and some institutions had indicated that this would increase this semester.
  • it is too early to understand the impacts on staff and student absences and there may be further impacts on the workforce in coming weeks
  • members recognised the importance of institutions communicating COVID-19 information to students who are starting courses in January. It is too early to understand the impacts of COVID-19 mitigations on this cohort
  • members emphasised the importance of Booster vaccine uptake and sectors should continue to communicate this to students and staff. Universities and colleges have positively communicated vaccination uptake in the past

Registering Lateral Flow Device (LFD) results communications

Caroline Pretty presented information on asymptomatic and LFD testing.

  • there has been an increase in demand for LFD testing and an increase in individuals reporting results. There is still a significant proportion of unreported tests
  • a study from November 2020 to June 2021 indicated approximately 40% of participants did not report LFD test results for a range of reasons e.g. they are unaware they need to or do not know how
  • a recent policy change removed the requirement for a confirmatory PCR test for asymptomatic individuals who have tested positive using a LFD, in most cases. It is important that LFD test reporting is maximised as it is the trigger for initiating contact tracing for positive individuals
  • the Living Safely this Winter campaign is expected to reach 97% of the adult population in Scotland. An adapted version has been shared with Colleges and Universities
  • policy changes to allow daily testing for fully vaccinated close contacts and LFD testing on day six and seven for index cases has provided new reporting reasons. The reporting portal is being updated to include these and interim guidance is in place

During the discussion, the following points were made:

  • Caroline will share a summary slide on testing requirements with members
  • the importance of communicating the need to report positive and negative LFD test results and the continued use of testing was emphasised
  • members discussed persuasive language for LFD testing and encouraging testing before staff and students attend on campus activities. Clear social norms for testing to enable in person teaching should be communicated
  • there were challenges in encouraging students to participate in the Test Ed study, although staff, particularly those working in labs, were enthusiastic. People are finding it a preferable and cheaper way of testing. Linda will share the study
  • members were asked to share any additional examples of communications from institutions on testing and reporting results. Further information is required on testing communications within the CLD and College sectors

AOB and close

The Chair brought the meeting to a close and thanked all members for the generosity of their time. The next meeting will be on Tuesday 1 February 2022.


  • information on Long-Covid impacts on students, both cognitive and physical to be shared with members. Diane Stockton to raise this with the EAVE II group. Linda to raise this with CRG
  • Linda to share a presentation with the group on the consequences of not having social contacts
  • Caroline Pretty to share a summary slide on testing requirements
  • Linda to share the Test Ed study with members
  • gather information about testing communications within the CLD and College sectors
  • members to share any additional examples of communications from institutions on testing and reporting test results
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