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Publication - Advice and guidance

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

Published: 21 Dec 2020
Last updated: 1 Apr 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
Where we are now

Where we are now

Our updated Strategic Framework sets out how we plan to restore, in a phased way,  greater normality to our everyday lives. This includes a planned further return to in-person learning and teaching. This will be kept under regular review, with decisions informed by the data on virus prevalence.

More information on how we will gradually move out of lockdown can be found in the timetable for easing restrictions

This guidance applies to on-campus and off-campus activity provided by colleges and universities. For the avoidance of doubt, this chapter takes precedence over the rest of the guide for the time being.

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 legal 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.

More information about coronavirus in Scotland can be found at www.gov.scot/coronavirus.

Background

Exceptional arrangements were put in place in light of the new variants of SARS-CoV-2 virus and advice from SAGE on 23 December 2020 emphasising the need for greater controls. All measures and restrictions are subject to regular review.

The emergence of the new variants of SARS-CoV 2 virus, 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.  

From 2 April, the ‘stay at home’ rule changed to ‘stay local’. These restrictions will be in force for a period of at least 3 weeks, with a more significant reopening of the economy and society anticipated from 26 April, as informed by data on virus prevalence.

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 updated Strategic Framework which sets out how we plan to restore, in a phased way, greater normality to our everyday lives.

A range of factors, including the current state of the pandemic, future projections, more general control measures and their 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 or from 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 continue to be kept to an absolute minimum and restricted to:

  • students as in the criteria set out below; and
  • 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.

Continued working from home protects the NHS and saves lives. 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.

Previous restrictions required everyone to stay at home unless they had a reasonable excuse for leaving home. This included going to work, but only if that job could not be done from home. The stay at home requirement was replaced with a stay local requirement on 2 April and the current, local authority-based travel restrictions will remain in place for at least a three week period. This means that people can only travel outside their local authority area if they have a reasonable excuse to do so (including work that cannot be done from home or education purposes).  Further guidance on travel can be found here: Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on travel and transport

The timetable for the planned lifting of restrictions can be accessed here: Coronavirus (COVID-19): timetable for easing restrictions

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.

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.

Updated 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 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

Institutions, accommodation providers, staff and students and should be aware of and follow the relevant guidance for those that are shielding. Those on the shielding list will be able to return to work or study from 26 April. The guidance on shielding can be found at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/covid-shielding/

Those 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. 
We are providing this information, advice and tools to help you make choices about your day to day activities and interactions including work.

Specific guidance for those on the shielding list can be found at
support for shielding on mygov.scot

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 and students (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. This may also include staff with a vulnerable family member for whom they have caring responsibility or household (inc. extended) member.

Institutions and accommodation providers should use Risk Assessments to put in place appropriate adjustments (such as ensuring physical distancing of students and any other mitigating measures that are mutually agreed with employers / providers). Existing Risk Assessments should also be revised to ensure that any new or increased risks are identified, recorded and mitigated.

Where any concerns do exist, guidance for people with underlying health conditions has been prepared and will continue to be updated. Institutions and accommodation providers should make students and 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 – amended after review on 23 February 

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

Campuses and accommodation will be open only for students who have remained over the winter break and for those whose attendance is critical and time-sensitive to their course or assessment and cannot be delivered remotely or postponed, or for those needing to access campus services for student well-being reasons.

In the amendment to this phase from the 23 February, only critical learners should return to in-person learning. Numbers engaging in in-person learning on campus should be kept to a minimum and should not exceed 5% of the total student enrolment of the institution at any one time. Universities should continue to assess which students require this element of in-person provision. Students should only be on campus for the duration of the teaching or practical work and should continue to learn remotely for other aspects of their course where that is possible.

Students are also able to return to their workplace placement in order to maintain workforce pipelines in critical sectors, such as health and social care, and early learning and childcare. However, if they are on campus for in-person teaching they should be considered within the 5% limit.

This phase is in place until 5 April.

Phased return from 5 to 26 April 2021

Universities will continue to maintain in-person teaching at any one time at the currently designated 5% maximum until 26 April. From 5 April, there will, however, be some very limited flexibility with specialised courses in institutions, where numbers of students attending for in-person learning may bring the total engaging in in-person learning at any one time above 5% of the total student enrolment. These would still be very low numbers of either undergraduate and / or postgraduate students when set against the total enrolment.

Any flexibility given above the 5% will need to be approved by Scottish Government officials and be subject to appropriate mitigations. Any institution wishing to seek this approval should set out in writing the additional flexibility they are seeking, for what reason and the mitigations that will be put in place.

After 26 April

Subject to progress in suppressing the virus and confirmation, universities will operate within protection level guidance of their local authority area.

Risk Assessments should be undertaken with full input from trade union or workforce representatives.

Institutions and accommodation providers should ensure that they review and update Risk Assessments regularly, and particularly when moving between the phases set out in this guidance.

In light of the change from stay at home rule to stay local, all institutions and accommodation providers should have revised existing Risk Assessments to ensure that any new or increased risks are identified, recorded and mitigated.

For information on mitigation measures can be found at the Health and Safety section of the guidance.

Taught postgraduate students at university

Between 5 April and 26 April, if there is a requirement to bring additional taught postgraduate students onto campus for in-person learning such that it would bring the total number of students above 5% of the total student enrolment at any one time, then the university may seek Scottish Government approval for flexibility for the additional activity that brings that total above 5%.

After 26 April, subject to progress in suppressing the virus and confirmation, universities will operate within protection level guidance of their local authority area.

College students

Until 5 April, 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.

Phase One

From 23 February, the numbers attending colleges should be kept at the absolute minimum with no more than 5% of students attending for in-person learning at any one time for time sensitive and critical in-person learning.

Students are also able to return to their workplace placement in order to maintain workforce pipelines in critical sectors, such as health and social care, and early learning and childcare. However, if they are on campus for in-person teaching they should be considered within the 5% limit for colleges in level 4 areas.

Similarly, any senior phase school pupils on campus for in-person teaching should be considered within the 5% limit.

Phased return from 5 to 26 April

From 5 April, colleges are also permitted to return students within the top 3 priority groups identified by Colleges Scotland as being the most likely to not complete this academic year.  These are: construction; engineering; and hairdressing, beauty and complementary therapies. This approach will be in place until Scotland moves into the level restrictions on 26 April.

This period should also include the further return of senior phase school pupils to college so that there is equity of access to education for senior phase pupils across college and school settings.

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.

Colleges are be able to prioritise the return of further senior phase school pupils studying at college who require in-person provision now in order to complete or progress. School pupils returning to college must be included within the 5% limit. The college guidance applies to senior phase school pupils attending college. Pupils should only be on campus for the duration of the practical work and should continue to learn remotely for those course elements where this is possible. 

After 26 April

Subject to progress in suppressing the virus and confirmation, colleges will operate within protection level guidance of their local authority area.  

Student Support Services in colleges and universities

Essential in-person student wellbeing and study support services, including those provided by student associations, 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 should operate strictly under the guidance Study spaces - including libraries - in level 4.

No more than 5% of students should be on campus at any one time for in-person learning and teaching. The 5% does not include libraries and safe study spaces. Students should only be on campus for the duration of the practical work and should continue to learn remotely for those course elements where this is possible. This limit does not include safe study spaces and it is imperative that the guidance setting out how to safely manage access to these facilities is adhered to at all times.   

Return to term-time accommodation

Students must adhere to the stay local rule from 2 April and continue to comply with social gatherings restrictions, including the restriction on indoor gatherings of different households.  These restrictions will be in force for a period of at least 3 weeks, with a more significant reopening of the economy and society anticipated from 26 April, as informed by data on virus prevalence.

Therefore,
students are strongly urged  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 students’ learning 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.  Students should only remain in their accommodation for as long as is necessary to pick up their 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  guidance on moving home whilst doing so.

Travel to take up residence in term-time accommodation should only be for the start of face-to-face teaching, essential placements or serious wellbeing or safety reasons.

Institutions should continue to 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.

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.

Further information can be accessed on these issues in the Student Information Scotland website.

Returning home

Where students have been living in their term-time accommodation during the first term, they should remain in their current accommodation where possible. Students should not travel outside their local authority area, or change households, unless they have a reasonable excuse. Students must adhere to the stay local rule whilst it is in force.  These restrictions will be in force for a period of at least 3 weeks, with a more significant reopening of the economy and society anticipated from 26 April, as informed by data on virus prevalence.

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.

Easter/Spring travel arrangements

It is recognised that students may wish to travel to their home address for the Easter/ Spring break, particularly where they stayed in term-time accommodation over the winter break.

From 2 April, the ‘stay at home’ rule was replaced with the ‘stay local’ rule. Restrictions on non-essential travel across local authority boundaries will remain in place. Travel within a person’s local authority area for a non-essential reason is permitted.

There are also ongoing restrictions on gatherings inside people’s homes. Students should not enter a different household on a temporary basis unless they have a reasonable excuse to do so (e.g. wellbeing reasons).

If students are leaving their term-time accommodation on a permanent basis or due to some other reasonable excuse (e.g. wellbeing reasons), they are permitted to do so provided they can do so safely. They should also use their ATS to have two LFD tests, 3 days apart, before travelling. If they test positive, they should arrange a follow up PCR test and not travel unless they receive a negative PCR test.

Students travelling to their term-time accommodation over the Easter/ Spring break can only do so where they have a reasonable excuse, such as essential face to face teaching or practical work. They should request a PCR test through the UK wide scheme prior to travelling and only travel once they receive a negative result.

Those students who do need to travel or move household for essential purposes are encouraged to use available testing facilities to test before doing so and, where possible, to use a Community Testing Site to test again once the household change has been made. Prior to returning after the Easter/ Spring break, and ahead of any change of household, students are encouraged to book a PCR test through the Department for Health & Social Care online booking portal, with follow-up LFD tests taken on campus once the household change has been made.

Self-isolation and travel

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 can be 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.
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 (“the 2020 Act”) introduced notice to leave periods for students residing in halls of residence and Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) (see paragraphs 1 to 3 of Schedule 1 of the 2020 Act). Where the student tenancy was entered into, and the accommodation was occupied, prior to 27th May 2020, the student may terminate their tenancy with 7 days’ notice. Where the student tenancy was entered into prior to 27th May 2020 and was not occupied before that date the student may terminate their tenancy with 28 days’ notice. Where the student tenancy was entered into after 27th May 2020, the student may terminate their tenancy with 28 days’ notice. While termination of a student tenancy under the 2020 Act must be for a reason related to coronavirus, the 2020 Act does not require a student to provide evidence of the reason for terminating the tenancy.

Students may wish to consider the guidance on the 2020 Act, 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 the current term, regular testing using lateral flow devices, will be offered to all university students who have:

  • to attend critical in-person teaching
  • returned to institutional accommodation for other accepted reasons
  • to be on campus to access educational facilities e.g. libraries

Regular testing will also be offered to college students. This will be delivered through home testing. Students will be able to pick test kits from their college, test on the schedule their college requires and report the results online.

Regular testing will also be offered to all university and college staff who have to work on campus or in institutional accommodation through the relevant process.

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.

Student Test At Home Before Travel (TBT) Scheme 

Scotland and Wales-resident students studying in Scotland who have been notified by their college or university that they should return for critical in-person teaching will be able to access free PCR testing prior to leaving their current address. This will be arranged through the UK wide existing arrangements for requesting a test.

When booking a test, students should answer ‘No’ to all questions until they reach the question:

  • ‘Why are you asking for a test?’

This question should be answered by selecting the option:

  • ‘I’m a student returning to University in Scotland.’

Scotland-resident students studying in Wales who have been notified by their college or university that they should return for critical in-person teaching will be able to access free PCR testing prior to leaving their current address. This will be arranged through the UK wide existing arrangements for requesting a test.

When booking a test, students should answer ‘No’ to all questions until they reach the question:

  • ‘Why are you asking for a test?’

This question should be answered by selecting the option:

  • ‘I’m a student returning to University in Wales.’

Students should minimise social contacts before any potential change of household.  They are strongly encouraged to have a test 48 hours before they plan to travel to help avoid spreading of the virus. The results of the test will not be shared with their institution, although students are strongly encouraged to do so. On receiving a negative test, students should travel safely to their term-time address within 48 hours.

On receipt of a positive result, students should follow existing self-isolation guidance and not travel. If students require support while self-isolating, they should contact their college or university or in the first instance to discuss the support available. Further information on support available can be found at the
Student Information Scotland website. They should also inform their institution, particularly if this means they will not be back on campus for the start of face to face teaching. There is no requirement for students to notify their institution of a positive result, although students are strongly encouraged to do so, since this can be helpful in terms of the institution providing pastoral support and further advice.

Even if the test result is negative, students should still arrange for two lateral flow tests, 2-5 days apart, as soon as possible after arrival on campus.

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 delay travel to Scotland until required to commence face-to-face teaching or if they have another reasonable excuse for entering and remaining in a level 4 area.

A number of countries – known as ‘acute’ list countries – are 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.

Students who travel directly into Scotland from any international destination must book a managed isolation package and go into managed isolation at their own expense for 10 days. This includes mandatory testing on days 2 and 8 after arrival into Scotland. Only if both tests are negative will a person be permitted to travel to their final destination after the end of their isolation period.

Similarly, students who travel to Scotland via the Common Travel Area who have been in an acute list country in the last 10 days must book and undertake managed isolation.

However, students arriving elsewhere in the Common Travel Area (CTA) from countries not on the acute list of countries and travelling onto Scotland are not required to go to a managed isolation. They need to book a testing package and take a Covid test on days 2 and 8 after arrival, and are required to self-isolate in specified premises (details to be provided to Border Control officials) for 10 days after their arrival in Scotland. This is being kept under review.

International students who have already arranged travel should speak to their institution in the first instance to discuss their circumstances.
Passengers travelling from outside the Common Travel Area (UK, Channel Islands, Ireland and the Isle of Man) and arriving in Scotland (whether or not they have been in an acute list country) must produce a negative test prior to travel.

As such, students should delay travel to Scotland until face-to-face teaching resumes for their course. If students think they have another reason for returning to Scotland, they should discuss this with their institution. 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 International travel and managed isolation guide.

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

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

International students facing financial hardship as a result of costs associated with the above are now eligible to apply to their university or college hardship fund.


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