Publication - Advice and guidance

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

Published: 21 Dec 2020
Last updated: 10 Feb 2021 - see all updates

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

Contents
Coronavirus (COVID-19): universities, colleges and student accommodation providers
Temporary lockdown guidance

Temporary lockdown guidance

Purpose

This guidance has been issued in response to the First Minster’s announcement of 19 December 2020, her statement to Parliament on 4 January 2021 and the announcement she made on 8 January. It is intended to provide clarity on arrangements for colleges and universities at the start of term in 2021. This guidance will be reviewed regularly to take account of the current state of the pandemic.

This guidance supplements the existing Coronavirus (COVID-19): universities, colleges and student accommodation providers during the current period of lockdown restrictions. It replaces previous guidance issued for the start of the new term and guidance for student visits home and applies to on-campus and off-campus activity provided by colleges and universities. For the avoidance of doubt, this supplementary guidance takes precedence over the main sectoral guidance.

The guidance does not amount to legal advice. Institutions, accommodation providers or individuals who are unsure of how any legal duties or restrictions apply to them should take independent advice.

The current restrictions in place in Scotland apply to everyone and we all have a part to play in preventing the spread of the virus. Institutions and accommodation providers should ensure that they adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of this guidance.

Background

These exceptional arrangements are being put in place in light of the latest developments with the virus and will be reviewed regularly.

The emergence of a new variant of COVID-19 which is significantly more transmissible means that having students generally return to campus and term-time accommodation at this time would not be consistent with a safety-first approach for students and staff. This is because the overall level of community transmission is currently very high, so travel is restricted in law. People must only leave home for an essential purpose. Controlling levels of community transmission plays an important role in ensuring that our colleges and universities can remain safe for staff and students - this approach is reflected in the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 strategic framework protection levels. 

A range of factors, including the current state of the pandemic, future projections,  more general control measures and their the impact and the roll out and impact of the vaccine will all be taken into account in considering further amendments to this guidance.

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 or being unable to travel to their term-time accommodation, 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 timeline for the return of students to college and university is set out below. The number of people on campus and students returning to term-time accommodation should be kept to an absolute minimum and restricted to:

  • Students as in the criteria set out below
  • Staff who, in the judgement of the institution or accommodation provider in consultation with trade unions, are required to attend in person to give effect to these revised arrangements.

Working from home protects the NHS and saves lives. In light of the strict lockdown conditions in place at the current exceptional time and 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.

Stay at home regulations which came into effect on 5 January 2021 place a duty on employers to take all reasonable steps to minimise the spread of coronavirus. This includes supporting staff to work from home for those roles that can be undertaken remotely. If staff were working from home during the first lockdown in March 2020 they should be working from home now.

The rules also place a legal duty on individuals to stay at home. By law, everyone must stay at home unless they have a reasonable excuse for leaving the house. This can include leaving home to go to work – but only if that job cannot be done from home.

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 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.

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 Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can also be found online.

Updated risk and equality impact assessments should 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 Level 4 (or Level 3 for the small number of institutions in that protection level) as set out in Coronavirus (COVID-19): universities, colleges and student accommodation providers. This includes rigorously following FACTS guidance at all times.

Clinically vulnerable individuals

The Chief Medical Officer has written to everyone on the shielding list with advice and guidance on the additional protective lockdown measures, including about going to work.

These staff have been advised that if they cannot work from home, they should not attend work for as long as these additional protective (lockdown) measures are in place in the area where they live or work. 

Students who are on the shielding list are also advised not to attend college or university in person.  If those students 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.

We also advise those on the shielding list not to use public transport at level 4 or in lockdown areas.  Everyone on the shielding list should also consider the extra advice for institutions in levels 3 and 4.

Clinically vulnerable staff (including those who have underlying health conditions, but who would not be on the shielding list) can continue to work and study on campus, subject to a dynamic risk assessment confirming it is safe to do so.

Institutions and accommodation providers should use risk assessments to put in place appropriate adjustments (such as ensuring physical distancing of staff).

Where any concerns do exist, guidance for people with underlying health conditions has been prepared and will continue to be updated. Institutions and accommodations providers should make staff who have underlying health conditions aware of this advice in order to inform discussions with their employer, trade union and/or healthcare team.

Undergraduate university students

The staggered return period universities and students should plan for is set out below. These dates and arrangements apply regardless of the protection level the university is in. 

Phase 1

From 5 January

 

Any university education that can be done online must be done online.

 

Campus/accommodation open but only for students who have remained over the winter break and other exceptional returners, where their attendance is critical and time-sensitive to their course or assessment and cannot be delivered remotely or postponed, essential placements or student well-being.

Phase 2

provided it is safe to do so (date to be agreed)

 

Essential returners to campus/term-time accommodation for in-person teaching where their attendance is time-sensitive to their course or assessment, especially ability to graduate, and cannot be delivered remotely or further postponed.

 

Phase 3 - provided it is safe to do so (date to be agreed)

 

Other students may return to campus and accommodation in this phase. It is unlikely that this will commence before the beginning of March. It will need to be done over a number of weeks to avoid large numbers of students arriving in campus over a short period. Guidance on the extent of in-person teaching will depend on the protection level the institution is in.  The Scottish Government will review at the beginning of February and regularly thereafter when this phase can commence.

Postgraduate students at university

All postgraduate learning, research and teaching should be undertaken in accordance with the protection level the institution is operating under and where appropriate, guidance on laboratories and research facilities. In level 4, the number of postgraduates attending campus should be kept at the absolute minimum and only where they cannot work/study from home.

College students

Colleges will follow the protection level guidance for their local authority area. In practice, this means the majority of college students will be taught online in January and into February.

Under the current level 4 restrictions, only a minimum number of students may return where face to face teaching and in-person assessment are critical to the successful conclusion of their studies. The numbers attending colleges should be kept at the absolute minimum.

Campuses and student accommodation are open but only for students who have remained over winter break and other exceptional returners, where their attendance is critical and time-sensitive to their course or assessment and cannot be delivered remotely or postponed, essential placements or student well-being.

Senior phase school pupils should not attend college while schools are only providing face to face for a very limited number of pupils. Colleges should explore whether arrangements can be made for this learning to take place online.

Student Support Services in colleges and universities

Essential in-person student wellbeing and study support services can continue to be provided by exception only where it is not possible to do this remotely.

This includes providing access to safe study spaces on campus and in student associations for students who need it the most. Strict controls, such as the use of pre-booked appointments, are to be used to keep the number of students and staff on campus to an absolute minimum. These spaces are for individual use only, not group study, and are not to be used as social spaces.

Essential student catering services will continue to be provided, in line with the relevant sectoral guidance.

Libraries

Libraries should operate strictly under the guidance on libraries and study spaces in Level 4. This specifies that browsing is suspended and books and resources will be made available online or via click and collect or home delivery where available.

Consideration should be given should be given to whether using suitable safe study spaces elsewhere on campus are a better alternative to using similar spaces in libraries. If so, study spaces in libraries should close.

Research and archive access can be arranged by exception only where resources  are not available online or via click and collect and are necessary for essential research that cannot be postponed, in line with Level 4 guidance for laboratories and research facilities 

Return to term-time accommodation

Students should not return to accommodation on a temporary basis to collect belongings. If students need to access resources or materials related to their studies, they should contact their college or university in the first instance to see how best their learning can be supported.

If materials are critical to learning and there is no alternative way to learn then a one-off exceptional collection of materials from accommodation may take place. Students should notify their accommodation provider in advance to make suitable arrangements to return safely and undertake any travel in accordance with safe travel guidance.  Students should only remain in their accommodation for as long as is necessary to pick up your belongings; they should not stay there overnight.   Essential medical supplies, which cannot be provided by another route, may also be collected from accommodation.

If a student is moving out of their term-time accommodation permanently,  i.e. they are relinquishing their right to reside in that term-time accommodation,  they should  work with their accommodation provider or landlord to make arrangements to collect their belongings at a later date, when restrictions allow. However, if this is not possible, students can return to their term-time accommodation to collect belongings.  They should ensure that they follow Scottish Government travel guidance and guidance on moving home whilst doing so.

The restrictions in legislation make it clear that people should only leave the place where they are currently living for an essential purpose. Travel outside a person’s local authority area is also only permitted if there is a reasonable excuse for doing so.

Travel solely to take up residence in term-time accommodation without some other factor such as the start of face-to-face teaching, essential placements or serious wellbeing or safety reasons, is unlikely to provide a reasonable excuse.

Therefore, apart from exceptional circumstances, students who changed household over the winter break (to form an 'end of term household') should not go back to their term-time accommodation until in-person teaching for their course has resumed.  and they need to move location in order to access education.

Students are likely to be in a distinct set of circumstances since they may have travelled to stay at another address such as the parental home over the winter break and may now wish to return to resume living at their term time address. Under legislation, to travel a person must have a ‘reasonable excuse’. Every student’s situation will be different and what is reasonable will depend on the circumstances of the individual student set against the legislation and guidance. However, restarting in-person tuition or a placement is a reasonable excuse, as is travelling to resolve circumstances that are significantly detrimental to a student’s health or their learning. Travel to take up or resume living in term-time accommodation for reasons related to welfare or wellbeing is also likely to be a reasonable excuse. It is for the individual student to justify what is reasonable in their specific circumstances and Police Scotland have been asked to consider individual students’ welfare circumstances against the legislation and specific guidance.

Institutions should consider any possible support that, once put in place, may mean that a student no longer needs to travel to their term-time accommodation. This is why students who feel they have a welfare-based need for returning to their accommodation are being asked to contact their institutions first, and institutions may wish to remind students of relevant Scottish Government guidance. However, ultimately, the decision on whether to return or not (and whether a return is reasonable) rests with the student.

Students should not return to accommodation on a temporary basis to collect belongings. If students need to access resources or materials related to their studies, they should contact their college or university in the first instance to see how best their learning can be supported.

Where a return to term-time accommodation is necessary in line with the legal restrictions as outlined above, we are asking students to minimise the risk to themselves and others in their term-time household by voluntarily reducing their social mixing for ten days before and ten days after the return. This means going out only for essential reasons including learning, food shopping and exercise. The current lockdown restrictions in effect already require this reduction in social mixing.

Students who require support to do this should contact their institution to discuss how they can be supported.

In some very limited circumstances, it may not be possible for a student to remain at the household they changed to over the winter break. Students in these circumstances should contact their college, university or student accommodation provider to discuss the support available to them. 

If a student’s circumstances make a return to term-time accommodation essential, they should plan their return in advance with their accommodation provider to ensure this can be managed safely.

Returning home

Where students have remained in their term-time accommodation over the winter break, they should remain in their current accommodation where possible. Students should not travel outside their local authority area, unless they have a reasonable excuse.

Taking account of the new strain of the virus, it may be advisable to delay a home move, where this is possible. Students should consider any return home carefully before making a decision, but it is recognised that there may be circumstances where it may not be possible for them to remain in student accommodation. Students should contact their college, university or student accommodation provider to discuss the support available in the first instance.

If students are currently living in term-time accommodation and wish to return home on a permanent basis, they are able to move home provided they can do so safely. Students permanently leaving their term-time accommodation should follow the guidance on moving home.

Students are encouraged to use private transport, where this is a practical option, and should follow guidance on how to travel safely.

Students returning home to a destination elsewhere in the UK or international destinations should follow the guidance on travel outside of Scotland. They should check in advance and follow the restrictions and guidance in place within the area they are travelling to, including compliance with any quarantine requirements.

Returning home whilst self-isolating

Students who are self-isolating as a result of having tested positive for COVID-19, having symptoms of COVID-19 or having been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, should stay in their current place of residence and follow the guidance on self-isolating.

If students require support while self-isolating, they should contact their college, university or student accommodation provider in the first instance to discuss the support in place. Self-isolating within a student accommodation setting is understandably difficult, but institutions and accommodation providers will want to help. Further information on support available can be found at the Student Information Scotland website.

If a student needs to return home because they require the support and care of a friend, family member or other supportive person to allow them to comply with the requirement to self-isolate, it is important that the guidance on self-isolating is followed to ensure any return home can be done so as safely as possible. Reasons for needing support may include, but are not limited to, physical, financial or mental health support.

If students are being collected from accommodation by a parent, family member, friend or other supportive person, they should contact their accommodation provider for guidance on how to do so safely.

The household the student returning to should also self-isolate if:

  • the student has symptoms of COVID-19 – a new, continuous cough;
  • fever or loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste;
  • the student has tested positive for COVID-19.

If students are self-isolating as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, the household they are returning to does not need to self-isolate. The student should continue to remain in self-isolation. Further information on close contacts can be found within the guidance on who needs to self-isolate.

Students should also not use public transport to travel home and follow travel guidance. We appreciate that students from island communities may only be able to complete part of their journey home by public transport. Students in these circumstances should contact their college or university in the first instance in order to discuss their circumstances and the options available.

When returning to accommodation, students should consider how best to travel there and whether any precautions may be needed when returning to their previous household. Students should also contact their accommodation provider to let them know they are returning.

Terminating a lease

If a student wishes to terminate their lease, they should speak to their accommodation provider or landlord to make appropriate arrangements. If they are not currently residing within their accommodation, they should work with their accommodation provider or landlord to collect their belongings at a later date, when restrictions allow. The Scottish Government asks that accommodation providers and landlords respond flexibly to such requests.

The Coronavirus (Scotland) (No. 2) Act 2020 introduced notice to leave periods for students residing in halls of residence and Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA). Students may wish to consider the guidance on the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No. 2) Act 2020, and further information is available from your accommodation provider.

Further information for students residing in the private rented sector can be found on the Student Information Scotland website.

Safe travel

Where travel is permitted, students should rigorously follow our guidance on how to travel safely. 

Students are encouraged to use private transport to return to their term-time household, where this is a practical option. They should not share a car with anyone outside of their household or extended household to minimise risks of transmission.

Students returning to term-time accommodation elsewhere in the UK or international destinations should follow the guidance on travel outside of Scotland. You should check in advance and follow the restrictions and guidance in place within the area you are travelling to, including compliance with any quarantine requirements.

Testing

We are building on our experience of providing rapid-result asymptomatic testing to some categories of students before the winter break. For Term 2, two rapid-result tests will again be offered to students changing household – the first on arrival, the second three days later.

Testing will also be available for students who have remained in college or university accommodation over the holiday period.  As with the end of the previous term, asymptomatic student testing will be conducted using lateral flow devices, and positive test results will be confirmed using a PCR test. Details of the local testing arrangements will be provided by universities and colleges, and will be kept under review to reflect changing circumstances.

These arrangements complement the existing arrangements for testing students who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

Students studying elsewhere in the UK

The Scottish Government has been working closely with the UK Government and other Devolved Administrations. Students at college or university in England, Wales or Northern Ireland should follow any guidance issued by their institution and the relevant government.

Guidance for students studying in England, Northern Ireland and Wales is available online.

Students travelling from overseas        

Students who are currently overseas should not travel to Scotland until face-to-face teaching begins for them. When returning, they must follow the guidance on international travel including quarantining if they are from a non-exempt country.

There are increased restrictions on international travel. Passengers travelling from outside the Common Travel Area (UK, Channel Islands, Ireland and the Isle of Man) must produce a negative test prior to travel and self-isolate for 10 days on arrival. A number of countries are also subject to additional travel restrictions following the identification of new variants of the virus. UK-wide travel bans apply to passengers from a number of African and South American countries. As such, students should not travel to Scotland until face-to-face teaching resumes for their course. Students may however make arrangements to arrive in Scotland at a slightly earlier date to allow them to meet quarantine requirements before in-person teaching resumes.  More information can be found on the Scottish Government website.

Students should therefore delay travel arrangements if they are not required to attend university or college in person. The position in law and guidance in Scotland is clear and is based on the public health objectives of minimising the risk of transmission of the virus (including new variants) to Scotland. International students should therefore follow the same rules as are applied to students living within the UK and Common Travel Area – no non-essential travel should be taking place. If students think they have a reasonable excuse for travel other than a resumption of in-person teaching, they should discuss their travel arrangements with their institution in advance.

 

Students from overseas are advised to check with their institution  in advance to confirm when in-person teaching begins, when they should arrive on campus and the wellbeing support available to them.    

International students who have already arranged travel should speak to their institution in the first instance to discuss their circumstances.

Students should be aware that travel advice may change while they  are overseas, and are advised to regularly check information on country exemptions for updates.

Further guidance for international students can be found in our main sectoral guidance.


First published: 21 Dec 2020 Last updated: 10 Feb 2021 -