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
Supporting staff and students

Supporting staff and students


Communication with staff, students, student associations and trade unions is crucial at each stage of the phased return, particularly in provision of reassurance and evidence that measures recommended in workplace risk assessments have been implemented and that staff and students feel they are returning to a supportive, caring and safe environment.

Institutions and providers will implement up to date, clear and effective communication of the arrangements and policies in place. This will be via a range of media to ensure high levels of awareness among students, staff and visitors, including external contractors, both before arrival on campus and while on site. Institutions and providers will make clear the channels of communication through which staff, students, student associations and trade unions can raise concerns about the implementation of safety measures in individual settings.

Institutions and providers will remind staff and students of the symptoms to look for and clear advice will be provided on how to respond should symptoms become apparent while on university premises. 

Work from home 

In line with guidance on working from home, remote working will be supported, where possible and appropriate, and staff can return to campus where government guidance allows for it and roles require it.

Institutions and providers will follow a risk-based approach to protect the health and safety of staff and students. Staff and students will be fully engaged in that process, through trade union and student association representatives.

Coming to and leaving university, college or accommodation

The following measures should be considered: 

  • taking account of impacts on those with protected characteristics and caring responsibilities for example noting the staggered school and nursery start and finishing times
  • defining process alternatives for entry/exit points where appropriate, for example, deactivating pass readers or keypads at turnstiles in favour of showing a pass to security personnel at a distance
  • reducing congestion, for example, by increasing entry/exit points
  • providing handwashing facilities, or hand sanitiser where not possible, at entry and exit points
  • using markings and introducing one-way flow at entrances/exits
  • providing additional parking or facilities such as bike racks to help people walk, run, or cycle to work where possible
  • limiting passengers in corporate vehicles
  • providing more storage for workers’ clothes and bags
  • minimising contact where students are returning to accommodation to collect belongings by making arrangements to reduce crowding

Shift patterns

Institutions and providers may develop plans to change shift patterns to protect the workforce and optimise productivity. This could include reducing the need for travel at peak times and opportunities for flexible working patterns. This will require negotiation with trade union or workforce representatives if it involves a change in terms and conditions.   

Equity in the workplace

There is clear evidence that COVID-19 does not affect all population groups equally. Individual health circumstances and protected characteristics will be discussed as appropriate with staff and students in consideration of expansion of activities and in risk assessment processes.

Consideration should be given as to whether any particular measures or adjustments are required to fulfil duties under the equalities legislation. It is important to make sure the steps implemented do not have an unjustifiably negative impact on some groups compared to others, for example, those with caring responsibilities or those with religious commitments.

Consideration should be given within the risk assessment as to whether sector restart might have greater impact on some groups than others depending on social circumstances, health conditions or legally protected characteristics. The Equality and Human Rights Commission can provide advice on a range of issues such as non-discrimination, communication with employees on equality issues, adjustments for disabled people, support for pregnant employees, flexible working for those with caring responsibilities, support for employees affected by domestic abuse, how to deal with harassment at work, and mental health issues.


Institutions should ensure that students are fully aware of the new measures in place and have the support they need to study remotely.

If students are experiencing difficulty or have concerns about studying remotely  they should contact their institution as soon as possible in order to access the support they need.

Further information on the support available to students can be found on the Student Information Scotland website.

If you are on the shielding list

You should follow the advice for those on the shielding list, even if you have had one or both doses of the coronavirus vaccine. This includes the advice about work and education.

On 26 April 2021 Scotland returned to a levels approach. There is extra advice for those on the shielding list, to follow at each level as well as the general guidance for your area.

The Chief Medical Officer issued advice about attending work and education through letters to everyone on the shielding list.


For staff, the current guidance at levels 0 - 3 includes that the majority of workplaces can be made safe.  If it is not possible to work from home, staff are advised they can go into the workplace.

Employers have a legal duty to make the workplace a safe environment for all staff. It is the employer’s responsibility to regularly carry out workplace risk assessments and put in place measures to make the workplace as safe as is reasonably practicable to try and minimise the risk to staff including contracting COVID-19.

In addition, we also advise staff on the shielding list to carry out an individual risk assessment to calculate their personal risk from COVID-19. This can help to highlight their individual risk to their employer in order to discuss any additional changes which may be needed to make the workplace and duties safe for them, if they cannot work from home.

If there are further concerns, people on the shielding list can get further advice from:

  • Occupational Health Services (if your employer offers them)
  • the Health and Safety representative in your workplace
  • HR (your employer’s Human Resources team, if there is one)
  • your trade union or professional body
  • the Citizens Advice website or the free Citizens Advice Helpline on 0800 028 1456, (Monday to Friday, office hours)
  • the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Helpline 0300 123 1100

There is further information available at: Coronavirus (COVID-19): shielding advice and support - (

Our advice is that if you live or work in an area that’s in Level 4 and you can’t work from home, you should not go to work. The vaccine offers significant protection against the virus, but we do not yet have evidence of exactly how effective it is for the people on the shielding list. Our advice is to continue to be cautious to help keep yourself safe.

The Chief Medical Officer has issued a letter called a Shielding Notification which has a similar purpose to a fit note and can be used to show your employer that you cannot go into the workplace.  This can be used at any time the area where you live or work is at Level 4 up to 30 June 2021.


Students can attend college or university at level 3 or lower if they need to under the ‘blended learning’ model. The only exception  to this, for young people, is if their clinical team has advised otherwise.

You can also carry out an individual risk assessment including the use of the COVID-age tool to calculate your personal risk from COVID-19.  This can help you to highlight your individual risk to the university, college and / or your accommodation providerThis can help to support discussions about any additional adjustments or arrangements that could be put in place. Find guidance on individual occupational risk assessment including the COVID-age tool here. It is based on evidence for adults aged 20 – 75.  It should only be used by students out with this age range with clinical support.

Students and young people who are on the shielding list are also generally advised not to attend college or university in person if their home, college or university is in a Level 4 area. However, your clinical team might advise carrying out an individual risk assessment.  It may be possible to make changes to let you attend college or university if you want to.

If students on the shielding list are sharing term-time accommodation with others, they should discuss any concerns with their accommodation provider or institution to see what support can be put in place.

Institutions, accommodation providers, staff and students should be aware of and follow the guidance for those who are on the shielding list.

We have published additional advice for people on the shielding list about how to keep yourself safe at work. 

Support for students

Institutions should ensure that students are fully aware of the new measures in place and have the support they need to study remotely.

If students are experiencing difficulty or have concerns about studying remotely  they should contact their institution as soon as possible in order to access the support they need.

Further information on the support available to students can be found on the Student Information Scotland website.

Return of students to college and university

The number of people on campus and students returning to term-time accommodation should continue to be kept to an absolute minimum.:

Where institutions or accommodation providers judge that it is essential for staff or students to attend work or college or university to support and deliver in-person provision and the safe operation of accommodation settings as set out in this guidance, they should do so in consultation with staff, trade unions and student representatives as set out in their commitment to fair work which was set in the context of the current crisis in a joint statement by the Scottish Government and the STUC.

Where students are returning for the purposes of attending essential placements, institutions should check with the relevant placement or training provider to ensure that placements are going ahead as originally planned and should consider whether it is appropriate to delay or consider alternatives to these placements due to prevalence of the virus.

Risk and equality impact assessments must be used to ensure that campuses and student accommodation remain safe for staff and students.

All staff and students should continue to implement and strictly observe the mitigations set out at the relevant level as set out in Coronavirus (COVID-19): universities, colleges and student accommodation providers. This includes rigorously following FACTS guidance at all times.

Continued working or studying from home is a mitigation measure designed to reduce risk of congestion and enable physical distancing.. In accordance with Scottish Government guidance on working from home, institutions, accommodation providers and student associations should ensure that only those staff who are required to support essential activities are requested to attend in person, and for no longer than is necessary.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 place a duty on businesses and service providers to take reasonably practicable measures to minimise the risk of the incidence and spread of coronavirus on their premises. This includes limiting the number of people who are on the premises to make it possible to maintain physical distancing.

Further guidance on travel can be found here: Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on travel and transport

Institutions, accommodation providers and staff should ensure they know what the law says employers and employees must do. Further information can be found in the Scottish Government’s guidance on working from home.

Further information on the support available to students can be found on the Student Information Scotland website.

Further information on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can also be found online.

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