Publication - Advice and guidance

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

Published: 21 Dec 2020
Last updated: 1 Jun 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
Hygiene and cleaning

Enhanced hygiene and environmental cleaning arrangements

hand and personal hygiene

Staff and students should practice good hand and personal hygiene as set out in Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for non-health care settings, with further advice available from NHS Inform.

Institutions should ensure that there is good campus messaging about hand and respiratory hygiene.

The main way of spreading COVID-19 is through close contact with an infected person. When someone with COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release particles (droplets and aerosols) containing the virus that causes COVID-19. These particles can be breathed in by another person.

Surfaces and belongings can also be contaminated with COVID-19, when people who are infected cough or sneeze near them or if they touch them.

You can practice good respiratory hygiene by catching coughs and sneezes in tissues or cover your mouth and nose with sleeve or elbow (not hands), dispose of the tissue into a closed bin and wash hands immediately.

Institutions and providers should provide appropriate hygiene facilities (hand sanitising facilities), particularly at key areas such as entry and exit points, and follow as guidance on opening public and customer toilets. To assist with this, consider:

  • providing regular reminders and signage to uphold hygiene standards
  • providing hand sanitiser at multiple points, in addition to washrooms
  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets to ensure they are kept clean and physical distancing is achieved where possible
  • enhancing cleaning of touch points in busy areas
  • providing either paper towels or electrical driers for drying hands
  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for showers, lockers and changing rooms to ensure they are kept clean and clear of personal items and that physical distancing is achieved as much as possible
  • restricting the number of people within the changing areas at any time
  • enhancing cleaning and sanitising of facilities regularly throughout the day

Cleaning and disinfecting the workplace before reopening

Following a period of campus closure, for example over the summer, it is important that the workplace is thoroughly disinfected before reopening. Measures should include:

Legionella testing

There is an increased risk of Legionnaire’s Disease when buildings have been out of use, or not running at full capacity. This is because water systems may become stagnant when not in use, increasing the risk of legionella within water supplies. Many public and office buildings have been closed during the COVID-19 crisis, making legionella a legitimate concern as lockdown restrictions are eased.

The Health and Safety Executive have published advice on the risk of Legionella in buildings which are closed or running with reduced occupancy during the COVID-19 crisis on the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS) website.

Institutions and providers should undertake a health and safety check of buildings, and deep cleaning prior to reopening where necessary, to mitigate risks. More information can be found on the HSE website.

Regular cleaning

COVID-19 guidance for non-healthcare settings  sets out the expected cleaning regime. Routine cleaning should ensure regular cleaning schedules and procedures are in place using a product which is active against bacteria and viruses. Also regular (at least twice daily) cleaning of commonly touched objects and surfaces (telephones, keyboards, door handles, desks, countertops etc.) relevant to the setting 

The guidance also provides advice on environmental decontamination (cleaning and disinfection) after a possible coronavirus case has left the college or university. If a risk assessment of the setting indicates that a higher level of contamination may be present (for example, where unwell individuals have been or there is visible contamination with body fluids), then the need for additional PPE such as an apron and gloves should be considered. 

Should there be a known or suspected case of COVID-19, guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings should be followed, which includes guidance on when PPE might be appropriate and how to dispose of waste.


We have produced guidance on ventilation, aimed at supporting the safe return of operations within a variety of contexts, which should be considered when planning the return of universities, colleges and students to student accommodation.

There is a continuing need for an appropriate supply of outdoor air to assist with reducing the risk of virus transmission.

Measures to improve ventilation should continue to be viewed as an important part of the overall package of control measures in campuses. Institutions should continue to ensure a focus on implementation and maintenance of wider controls including personal hygiene, enhanced cleaning and physical distancing.

 Actions should include:

  • Assessing ventilation in each space, to ensure effective and suitable ventilation in line with the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Scottish Building Technical Handbook (non-domestic) in Scotland.
  • Identifying spaces where there is poor or insufficient ventilation to reduce the risk of virus transmission. Ideally activities in these spaces should be relocated, but if this is unavoidable then restrict these spaces to single occupancy or for very short durations by more than one person. This should always be in place alongside other measures, such as physical distancing, good hand hygiene and face coverings.
  • Ensuring all spaces with multiple occupants are well ventilated and comply with the appropriate standards. This should aim to meet current guidance on ventilation rate for the setting.
  • Institutions should consider a shorter duration of in-person activities with intermittent ‘fallow time’ between classes to ventilate a space: this may be a beneficial approach to reduce risk for spaces that are used by different groups or one group over an extended period.

As a minimum, institutions should ensure that normal, adequate levels of ventilation and appropriate temperatures are maintained. 

Institutions should also consider the latest guidance on blended learning.

Institutions and accommodation providers should ensure additional guidance in relation to ventilation and occupancy of sports and leisure facilities is also followed in the appropriate areas of campus as risk is significantly higher due to increased respiratory activity.  This includes encouraging as much sports and leisure activities to be done outdoors to minimise virus transmission.

Natural Ventilation and Temperature

The primary effective method of increasing natural ventilation remains the opening of external doors, vents and windows. Wherever it is practical, safe and secure to do so, this approach should be adopted.  Where the activity is mainly sedentary the temperature should normally be at least 16°C.  Where considerable physical activity takes place (such as workshops) the temperature should be at least 13°C. Institutions must comply with health and safety at work law, including keeping the temperature at a comfortable level.

Institutions should seek to make improvements in areas ofcampus where there is poorer ventilation, e.g. corridors, stairwells, waiting areas.  As long as there is a supply of fresh air, and not just recycled internal air, ventilation issues in these areas could be addressed through the use of vents, opening windows or doors. Where this cannot be achieved, then these areas should not be used.

Institutions should refer to existing Building Control and CIBSE standards which outline the number of air changes per hour that apply to each space.

Fire doors should never be held open (unless assessed and provided with appropriate hold open and self-closing mechanisms which respond to the actuation of the fire alarm system). A review of the Fire Safety Risk Assessment should always be conducted before any internal doors are held open. Where safe to do so, institutions should consider leaving internal doors open to increase ventilation where this does not directly increase air mixing between different user groups or zones.

Potential approaches, the suitability of which will depend on a range of local factors including weather conditions, may include:

  • partially opening doors and windows to reduce draughts while spaces are occupied
  • opening high level windows in preference to low level to reduce draughts
  • purging spaces by opening windows, vents and external doors while spaces are unoccupied (e.g. between classes or during breaks) taking into account any security considerations
  • adjusting indoor heating to compensate for cold air flow from outside (e.g. higher system settings, increased duration).

Mechanical ventilation

Where it is not possible to keep doors and windows open while maintaining appropriate internal conditions in line with statutory obligations, and centralised or local mechanical ventilation is present, systems should wherever possible be adjusted to full fresh air. If this is not possible while maintaining appropriate internal conditions, systems should be operated to achieve normal statutory requirements as a minimum. Additional points to assist with the practical delivery of this approach include:

  • Where ventilation units have filters present enhanced precautions should be taken when changing filters.  Additional advice on filters can be located in the CIBSE guidance or REHVA COVID guidance.
  • Ventilation systems should be checked or adjusted to ensure they do not automatically adjust ventilation levels due to differing occupancy levels.
  • If unsure, seek the advice of your heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineer or adviser
  • Consider starting mechanical ventilation ahead of staff and students arriving in the building and allow it to continue after classes have finished. 


Fan heaters, fan assisted heating systems or air conditioning within a space may assist in maintaining appropriate temperatures, but only where there is an adequate supply of outdoor air into the space and air circulation is zero or minimised. This approach should only be used where the balance of adequate ventilation and appropriate temperature cannot be achieved otherwise. If this approach is taken, care should be taken to avoid unregulated use of ad hoc devices which may cause increased risk in terms of electrical load, inappropriate installation, cable trip hazard, noise and potential fire or electrocution risk. 

CO2 Monitors

Use carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors to identify the CO2 levels in a space to help decide if ventilation is poor, thereby prompting user intervention such as opening a window or vent. You should seek specialist advice on the use of these. Consult the ventilation guidance.

Where areas of campus that are of particular risk or concern are identified, CO2 monitors may be useful as part of overall monitoring strategies to indicate areas of poor ventilation. Any use of CO2 monitors should be proportionate and pragmatic, and help ensure the safety of staff and students.

Monitoring and communication

Updated ventilation guidance should be communicated and understood by all building users (staff, students, contractors, and so on).  Incidents should also be recorded and monitored to assess if particular spaces are high risk/ transmission areas.

Wearing appropriate PPE where necessary

Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

COVID-19 guidance for non-healthcare settings sets out guidance on use of PPE. This advice confirms that workplaces should use PPE consistent with local policies and in line with measures justified by risk assessment.

Health and Safety Executive’s  risk-based approach will help determine in which settings and what type of PPE would be appropriate. Colleges and universities have considerable expertise in determining PPE requirements based on risk assessment. Where the need for PPE is identified, it will be clearly communicated to staff and students and will be readily available. In such circumstances, staff and students will also need to be trained in its use.

Face coverings


Guidance on the use of face coverings has been published, which provides a definition of face coverings (which should not be confused with PPE). Use of face coverings in the circumstances set out in this guidance should be seen as just one mitigation within a package of measures.

The other mitigation measures in this guidance, including 2m physical distancing, environmental cleaning, ventilation, personal hand and respiratory hygiene remain vitally important. Face coverings should not be used for the purpose of reducing physical distancing requirements. 

Anyone wishing to wear a face covering in a college, university or in student accommodation, even where they are not required, should be permitted to do so unless it is unsafe.

Face coverings should also be worn in the following circumstances (except where someone is exempt from wearing a face covering): 

  • where people are moving about in institutions in corridors and indoor communal areas (including toilets) as well as other areas of campus where 2m physical distancing cannot be guaranteed
  • in line with the current arrangements for public transport, where adults and young people aged 5 and over are travelling on public and dedicated college and university transport
  • in corridors and indoor communal areas in student accommodation. This includes toilets, common rooms and laundry rooms

Subject to 2m physical distancing between people of different households, enhanced cleaning and other mitigations such as rota systems being in place, face coverings do not need to be worn in kitchens and bathrooms shared by multiple households or when interacting face-to-face with other students within their household, for example in a cluster flats or other private space.

Some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings. Further information on exemptions can be found in the above face coverings guidance. 

Face coverings are not generally required when students are seated in classrooms or other learning and teaching environments in Levels 0-2 of the Strategic Framework, however this is subject to a risk assessment appropriate to the specific circumstances and as long as physical distancing is maintained.

In Levels 3 and 4, face coverings should be worn by all staff and students (unless exemptions apply) in indoor learning and teaching settings, even where 2m or more physical distancing can be maintained. This is in line with updated advice on the use of face coverings in college and university from the Coronavirus (COVID 19): Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues which was published on 1 December 2020. 

There may be circumstances where face coverings need to be temporarily removed during learning or teaching activities for safety or practical reasons, for example close proximity to an open flame in a laboratory or workshop setting or while playing a wind instrument. In these instances, physical distancing and other mitigations appropriate to the circumstances should be in place.

For information on wearing face coverings in beauty, hair and therapy delivery refer to the close contact service guidance.

You must by law (unless an exemption applies) wear a face covering in public spaces, such as shops, libraries and public transport, as set out in the face coverings guidance

There are situations in college, university and student accommodation where face coverings should be worn. Requirements to wear face coverings in certain environments should be made clear to staff and students.

Equalities obligations and exemptions on the use of face coverings

The impact of wearing a face covering for those who rely on visual cues to enable them to be included in learning must be taken into account via the appropriate use of Equality Impact Assessments. This includes the impact on students or staff with additional support needs, including any level of hearing loss, and those who are acquiring English. In classes where such impacts are anticipated, institutions should ensure reasonable adjustments and mitigations are in place. 

Scottish Government guidance on helping others sets out supportive approaches when interacting with hearing impaired people.  These may include the use of transparent/see-through face coverings, or speakers temporarily removing their face covering with alternative mitigations in place, and in line with the exemption for people communicating with someone else who relies on lip reading and facial expressions. Further information about supporting communication with hearing impaired learners, in circumstances where face coverings are a barrier to communication, is available, for example from the National Deaf Children’s Society.

Individuals who may not be able to handle and/or wear face coverings as directed (for example, some students with additional support needs or disabilities) are exempt in the regulations and guidance. 
Face coverings may also play a particularly important role if prevalence rises, and their use may then be increased in specific local contexts on the basis of risk assessments and local factors, including as follows: 

  • incident Management Teams may recommend a further strengthening of the use of face coverings in other areas of the institution when dealing with a local outbreak (see Outbreak Management)
  • institutions may wish, subject to appropriate risk assessment and consultation with staff and trade unions, to consider strengthening the use of face coverings in other areas of campus (e.g. classrooms in Levels 0-2) to address specific local circumstances (e.g. particular concerns or anxieties around distancing or confidence building in the context of local or wider outbreaks).

In making any such local decisions on the stepping up of use of face coverings, it will remain vitally important to consider the potential impact including via the appropriate use of Equality Impact Assessments. 

It is vital that clear instructions are provided to students and staff on how to put on, remove, store and dispose of face coverings in all of the circumstances above, to avoid inadvertently increasing the risks of transmission. Where face coverings should be worn, exemptions and other key points are available in the general face covering guidance.

It is reasonable to assume that most people will now have access to re-usable face coverings due to their increasing use in wider society, and the Scottish Government has made available a video on how to make a simple face covering. Institutions and accommodation providers can support compliance with the advice on wearing face coverings by, for example, ensuring adequate signage, supporting those who are exempted, and providing where possible face coverings for those who arrive on campus without them.

Face shields may only be used if they are worn in addition to a face covering underneath, as the evidence shows that face shields do not provide adequate protection on their own. If a staff member feels they require additional protection they should discuss this with their employer in the first instance so it can be factored into risk assessments if necessary. 

First published: 21 Dec 2020 Last updated: 1 Jun 2021 -