Scotland delays students’ return to campuses until March

Holyrood revises guidance in light of spread of new Covid-19 variant

January 8, 2021
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Scotland has delayed the return of the majority of university students to campus until the start of March.

The new guidance from the Scottish government said that most university students must be taught online throughout January and February, in light of the spread of the new variant of coronavirus.

A limited number of students will be allowed back in January, including those who have stayed over the winter break, those whose studies cannot be delivered online or who are required to undertake placements, and those whose well-being depends on returning to campus.

The guidance explained that a very limited number of students may be able to return from 15 February “where attendance is time sensitive to the ability to graduate and cannot be delivered remotely or further postponed”.

Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s higher education minister, said that the “return of students to campus, including returning to term-time accommodation, involves the mass movement of thousands of people across the country”.

“The mixing of people on that scale, including the potential movement of tens of thousands of students to university halls and private-rented flats, simply isn’t safe right now. It would fuel the virus, and that is something no one wants,” he said.

In England, universities and students have been told that only those studying medicine or health-related subjects, social work or education can return in January, with the majority scheduled to return from mid-February or later.

The Scottish government said students should not return to their term-time address until their in-person teaching resumes. This would be done in three phases: phase one would see only students for whom in-person teaching is critical return in January and phase two refers to students whose assessment and graduation depend on in-person teaching.

The final phase, which the government said was unlikely to begin before March and would depend on the control of the virus at the time, would see most students return to campus and accommodation on a gradual basis.

Mr Lochhead said that “these changes reflect the current status of the virus, the reality of the new strain, and the rise in cases in recent weeks”.

“Our immediate priority right now is to say to students [that], other than in specific special circumstances, they must not return to their campus or term-time accommodation before they are specifically told to do so by their institution,” he said.

“For the overwhelming majority of university students, this means all learning will be online only at least for January and February, and students should not expect to return to campus or student accommodation before the end of February.

“We will review plans in light of the state of the pandemic nearer the time, but right now even the very limited number of returns that were previously planned…cannot happen until at least the middle of next month for the majority of students, supported by rapid-result testing on arrival.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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