Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): universities, colleges and student accommodation providers

Published: 21 Dec 2020
Last updated: 19 Jul 2021 - see all updates

Guidance for higher and further education institutions and student accommodation providers to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19): universities, colleges and student accommodation providers
Health and safety

Health and safety

In aligning with the principles and planning, this guidance does not supersede existing health and safety legislation and institutions and providers will continue to abide by these obligations, including the legal duty on employers to conduct risk assessments and engage with health and safety committees according to The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (SRSC).

Specifically on COVID-19 and through all phases of emerging from lockdown, institutions and providers will have regard to general health and safety guidance and to the requirements for reporting cases.

Employers must ensure that the risks are controlled so far as is reasonably practicable. All employers need to carry out an appropriate COVID-19 risk assessment, as they would for other health and safety related hazards. This is a risk-led approach to identify and implement sensible measures to control the risks. The assessment should consider what measures need to be implemented to protect the health and safety of all staff, students, visitors and contractors. These will be influenced by site-specific factors. See: further advice on carrying out COVID-19 risk assessments.

Controls should be considered following the hierarchy of control approach. Outcomes should explain to others what they are required to do and help staff with planning and monitoring to ensure the controls are implemented and remain effective and are updated in the light of emerging evidence or changes in public health advice.

Public health measures

To stay safe and protect others we must minimise the opportunity for Coronavirus  to spread from one person to another. Physical distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene are the most important and effective things we can all do to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Essential public health measures in institutions and student accommodation include:

  • minimising contact with others (physical distancing, quarantine, groupings)
  • enhanced hygiene and environmental cleaning arrangements
  • ventilation
  • wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary
  • a requirement that people who are self-isolating or under an obligation to quarantine stay at home
  • active engagement with Test and Protect

Institutions and providers should encourage staff, students and visitors to follow the Scottish Government’s FACTS advice:

  • wear a face covering
  • avoid crowded places
  • clean your hands and surfaces regularly
  • 2 metre physical distancing
  • self-isolate and book a test if you develop coronavirus symptoms

Minimising contact with others

Physical distancing

The Coronavirus (COVID-19): local protection levels set out five protection levels which apply to local authority areas across Scotland.  

Institutions, accommodation providers and Student Associations should check the local protection level of their area and find out what they can and cannot do based on the local area that they live, work or travel in.  

As of 17 May 2021, institutions in levels 1 and 2 are operating  a blended model of learning in line with their local protection level.  Institutions in level 3 are operating on a ‘restricted blended model’ of learning.

This blended model will continue for the remainder of the academic year. Staff and students will be on campus albeit less frequently and in lower numbers than before the virus.

Institutions should continue to make reasonable efforts to facilitate working and studying remotely. Staff and students can expect to spend time working or studying from home. This will not always be possible and, where that is the case, public health measures (including physical distancing) must be in place.

All reasonably practicable measures must be taken to implement physical distancing (currently 2m) in all relevant areas of universities, colleges and student accommodation. In planning for physical distancing, institutions and providers will adopt the procedures set out in COVID-19 information and guidance for non-healthcare settings.

Physical distancing rules must be followed in all parts of the college or university campus, including outdoor areas, entrances and exits, break rooms, canteens and similar settings. Institutions and providers will take a risk-based approach and put in place measures to manage brief interactions which cannot reasonably be avoided, such as limited numbers of people passing each other in corridors.

Where physical distancing cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, such activity should continue only if it is essential or in line with the appropriate guidance, for example, in relation to pubs and bars. Appropriate mitigating actions should be taken to reduce the risk of transmission.

Institutions and providers should ensure they have plans in place for:

  • the use of space by staff and students to ensure adherence to physical distancing guidance. This will be determined by a variety of factors including the dimensions and layout of buildings and the requirements of different disciplines
  • discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and sites
  • the use of clear, appropriate signage across campuses which reinforces expectations of staff and students at relevant points
  • workstations having a clear marking of physical distancing boundaries
  • physical adjustments such as the use of perspex shields at tills, reception and other service points
  • one-way systems or other special controls on access to constrained spaces such as toilets and changing rooms while adhering to social physical distancing guidance
  • other measures such as adjusted/staggered working times, shifts, timetabling and part-time arrangements on campus to minimise the numbers of staff and students on campus and in specific buildings at any one time
  • considering opportunities to introduce technology and systems to aid safe working practices and in particular physical distancing
  • communicating with visitors prior to arrival and on arrival to ensure visitors understand physical distancing and hygiene measures
  • reducing maximum occupancy for lifts, to allow for physical distancing,
  • providing hand sanitiser for the operation of lifts and encouraging use of stairs
  • making sure that people who are disabled are able to access lifts whilst maintaining physical distancing measures
  • regulating use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts, turnstiles and walkways to maintain physical distancing.

As the First Minister announced on 11 May, we are currently reviewing physical distancing, taking account of available and emerging evidence, including the ongoing rollout of the vaccination programme. An announcement of the outcome of this review is due ahead of the planned move to Level 1 on 7 June. Labs and research facilities will be considered as part of this review.  

This guidance will be further updated at that time to reflect the outcome of the review, including the proposals for a clear route to the reduction / removal of physical distancing to enable organisations to plan effectively.

Bars, catering and dining facilities

Bars, catering facilities (with the exception of catering within student accommodation), retail operations and leisure facilities on campus and in student accommodation must comply with the stipulations set out in the protection levels pertaining to local authority areas. Employers should refer to the available guidance on creating and maintaining safer workplaces.

In areas with protection levels 0-2, physical distancing of 1 metre applies to “reduced distance premises” which includes “cafes, including workplace canteens” in the regulations. In protection levels 3 and 4 this reduced distancing is not permitted in workplace canteens. Therefore, in Levels 3 and 4, 2m physical distancing applies.

Household visiting and social gatherings

Student households are subject to the same restrictions on indoor and outdoor visits as the rest of the population. The Coronavirus (COVID-19): local protection levels set out five protection levels and students, institutions and accommodation providers should check this and apply the conditions pertaining to their protection area.  

Check what the restrictions are on meeting others indoors and outdoors at each protection level.

Institutions and providers should ensure students are aware that opportunities to socialise will be considerably more restrictive than is normally the case. Limits on meeting up with family and friends apply to social and recreational gatherings on and off campus. 

There is an exception to the restrictions on gatherings for students living in student accommodation to use cooking, dining, toilet or washing facilities which are shared with any person who is not a member of their household.

Colleges and universities are expected to ensure that they have appropriate disciplinary arrangements in place should students fail to comply with the law on social gatherings. We expect non-compliance to be treated as a serious breach in terms of disciplinary procedures.

Institutions should make clear that non-compliance maybe treated as a serious breach in terms of disciplinary procedures up to and including gross misconduct.

Institutions and accommodation providers should update their conduct and discipline policies if necessary and must ensure all staff and students are informed of this.

Common areas in institutions

Within institutions there will be a variety of common areas. It is important to maintain physical distancing in common areas by:

  • staggering break times to reduce pressure on break/eating areas
  • using safe outside areas for breaks, where possible
  • encouraging staff and students to bring their own food
  • using workplace areas that have been freed up by home working
  • reconfiguring seating and tables to maintain spacing
  • using protective screening for staff in public facing areas
  • regulating use of locker rooms, changing areas and other facility areas to reduce concurrent usage
  • encouraging storage of personal items and clothing in personal storage spaces, for example lockers
  • considering use of physical distance marking for areas such as toilets, showers, lockers and changing rooms and in any other areas where queues typically form

First published: 21 Dec 2020 Last updated: 19 Jul 2021 -