Coronavirus (COVID-19): universities, colleges and community learning and development providers

Guiding principles to manage COVID-19 and to remain vigilant in colleges, community learning and development (CLD) settings and universities.

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Guiding principles

Principle 1: Universities, Colleges and CLD providers should seek to sustain protective behaviours.

As the updated Strategic Framework makes clear, the virus has not gone away and the risks associated with outbreaks and new variants remain. Maintaining behaviours, that were helpful in both protecting and mitigating against transmission, are likely to provide some reassurance to students and staff. These behaviours may include:

  • continuing to encourage all those eligible to get the vaccine/booster as a priority, including working with local health boards to ensure on-campus vaccine arrangements are in place, if considered necessary;​​​​​​
  • continuing to follow national and any local testing guidance and to participate in testing as advised to the general public, and to follow self-isolation guidance in place at any given time
  • provide facilities for good hand hygiene, and encourage their regular use by staff and students​​​​​​
  • consider encouraging continued use of face coverings, even when not mandatory, in settings where risk of transmission might be considered higher​​​​​​
  • consider where some physical distancing might still be helpful in managing transmission risks ​​​​​
  • continuing to ensure that spaces on-campus, and in the CLD estate, have adequate levels of hygiene/cleanliness, ensuring they are cleaned regularly, and are well-ventilated (with a priority given to those spaces considered to be most at risk)​​​​​
  • continuing to encourage hybrid working, where this is considered feasible, appropriate and effective, and fits with service needs​​​​​​​

Principle 2: Continuing to ensure vulnerable staff/students are supported and protected, and that they can continue to learn and work flexibly without jeopardising their health, or the health of their dependants

  • recognising that those vulnerable to COVID-19 can be a significant group, which takes account of ethnicity, disability, age, those who are immunosuppressed or who are pregnant, carers, people receiving/about to receive medical treatment, and people who are carers or who live with people who are vulnerable to COVID-19
  • having due regard to the Distance Aware Scheme, which is designed to help those worried about mixing with others as we adapt to living with COVID-19, and Scottish Government’s advice for people on the Highest Risk List which is the main stay for those who are deemed clinically vulnerable
  • considering where blended learning can continue for those who require that flexibility

Principle 3: Restrictions on in-person teaching/learning have been harmful for many students, and in line with the updated Strategic Framework, the responsibility to determine the appropriate balance between in-person and online teaching/learning will be for institutions, according to their needs and circumstances

  • over the past two years, in-person teaching and learning has been severely restricted, and we recognise the harmful educational and broader impacts this has had on students and on staff, and society more generally
  • whilst in-person teaching is likely to be the appropriate and desirable approach for most courses, institutions will be able to decide where it is appropriate to maintain blended/hybrid teaching/learning
  • the transition under the Strategic Framework should involve meaningful consultation with trade unions, staff and students/learners through their representative organisations.  See also Principle 6

Principle 4: Universities, Colleges and CLD providers will be expected to follow any society-wide requirements

  • as with any other organisation or business, institutions and providers will be expected to follow those measures which apply across society as a whole. For example, should the threat level increase to ‘High’ (as outlined in the Strategic Framework), leading to the introduction of legal requirements, these will need to be equally applied in universities, colleges and CLD settings.
  • where there is uncertainty over the application of society-wide requirements, institutions may wish to seek clarity from the Scottish Government
  • wider on-campus activities i.e. those beyond teaching and learning, should follow any relevant guidance which applies to analogous settings in wider society

Principle 5: Decisions on any measures to go beyond those required across society as a whole should be made by institutions/CLD providers, following appropriate consultation with students and staff unions

  • institutions/providers can respond to local concerns, outbreaks or elevated levels of local risk, by putting in place additional protective measures. In determining the need to take such action, they should consider the advice of local public health teams
  • these matters should be considered within organisations’ governance structures in conjunction with the engagement of staff unions and students/learners through their representative organisations.  See Principle 6

Principle 6: Compliance with positive behaviours, local measures, and confidence in plans to tackle outbreaks and/or the need to swiftly respond to wider changing public health concerns, will be maximised when relevant stakeholders/communities are constructively engaged in the process of decision-making

  • existing committees and/or structures with responsibility for pandemic responses, and which include provision for close engagement with student bodies and trade union representatives, should continue to be used to support effective decision-making during the pandemic.  Where existing structures do provide for this close engagement with unions and students/learners, then institutions should consider adjusting existing structures or establishing a Covid Response Committee (CRC) or equivalent model, to do so
  • these committees/structures, together with business continuity plans, should provide for horizon scanning, monitoring ongoing preparedness (inc. planning for international students), the potential need for a rapid switch to partial or more general online learning (should that be required), and ensuring support for clinically vulnerable students and staff continues to be prioritised.
  • meetings of these committees/structures should allow for consideration of ways to encourage continued positive behaviours and opportunities’ to reach a view on what, if any, additional local measures might be required should the public health situation require it
  • coronavirus (COVID-19): safer workplaces and public settings, and the recommendations for universities and colleges of the SG Short-Life Working Group on Ventilation should be taken into consideration with institutions’ forward plans. This should include the prioritisation of regular assessment/monitoring of learning/teaching and staff workspaces, with a view to remedial action being taken where required
  • the committees/structures should also be consulted on institution Outbreak Management Plans, and on arrangements for any shift back towards large-scale online learning as a consequence of a deterioration in the public health situation
  • arrangements may differ for the CLD sector where activities are spread across multiple locations, with multiple types of service use and in locations in multiple models of ownership. Details of engagement arrangements for the CLD sector will be worked out in conjunction with the sector itself

Principle 7: Information flow between local institutions and the Scottish Government will continue to be essential in maintaining a high state of readiness to respond to future changes

  • local-level decisions and actions will need to be taken against the backdrop of the wider public health situation
  • similarly, in the event of a public health situation, it will be important for Scottish Government Ministers and officials to remain closely aware of decisions or actions being taken at the local level, in order to ensure that good practice is being shared more widely and/or to identify/tackle any emerging common issues
  • in order to ensure this flow of information, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advanced Learning Recovery Group will continue to meet on a regular basis. This will allow sector stakeholders to continue to receive updates on the wider public health situation and can provide a forum to share local experiences
  • the sectors should continue to undertake appropriate statutory COVID-19 risk assessment work, and ensure trade unions and student bodies are meaningfully involved. Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer workplaces and public settings sets out further detail on risk assessment and duties as a business or service provider
  • in addition, all contractors, temporary workers and visitors engaged in activities that are connected with teaching and learning in universities, colleges and CLD settings should be made aware of and conform to the guidance

Principle 8: Community learning and development (CLD) provision is an essential part of the education system

  • to recognise that CLD is different to institutions and/or more wide spread, particularly with regard to Principle 6, and where arrangements on this will be worked out with the sector
  • it is expected that local/community based facilities should permit access to organisations and groups who can demonstrate that they have adequate mitigation measures in place
  • to emphasise that in-person youth work should be allowed to take place across Scotland and any access barriers addressed to avoid an inequitable picture across the country for young people.
  • it is essential to balance the human rights of different categories of  users of local/community based facilities. Risk assessments should therefore be facility specific and consideration should be given to the needs of all clinically vulnerable groups who use such facilities.  This could include older people, those with disabilities or long term health conditions, or where poverty and disadvantage amplify other social determinants of health. Local mitigation measures should enable these groups to continue to make use of local/community based facilities safely, in line with the need to balance the four harms of COVID-19
  • the Scottish Community Development Centre works closely with Public Health Scotland to maintain a resource called ‘Supporting Communities Safely'. This resource has been providing advice for community groups, organisations and volunteer networks about how to comply with government guidance on infection control and other safety measures during the pandemic when delivering services and about how to make use of guidance in local community contexts

Principle 9: Ensuring that specific guidance for students on COVID-19 is accessible, relevant, workable, and strongly communicated

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