The government in Scotland has asked universities to “implement a greater level of protective measures” at the start of the new term, including potentially limiting numbers in lecture theatres and continuing the use of face coverings because of an increased risk of outbreaks in young and unvaccinated populations.
The advice to Scottish universities, published Thursday 15 July, said: “Institutions should ensure measures go further than the minimum baseline where that is necessary to keep people safe.”
It states that universities should consider “the appropriate use of face coverings” and “in specific circumstances, limiting direct face-to-face learning involving very large numbers of students” in lecture halls and classes.
Procedures should take “particular account of the profile of vaccination across the population, and concentrations of young people in student accommodation”, the Scottish government advice said.
The advice to universities differs across Great Britain.
Welsh education minister Jeremy Miles told universities in Wales that the government would scrap the two-metre social distancing rule so long as the risk was low and the pace of vaccinations allowed. But two leading vice-chancellors, Prof Paul Boyle and Prof Colin Riordan of the universities of Swansea and Cardiff respectively, told MPs earlier this month that lectures would move online regardless of Covid rules.
Lectures are allowed south of the border. In England, the latest government advice states: “HE providers should continue to make efforts to reduce the risk of transmission where possible. They should not put in place measures which limit the teaching and learning outcome for students, or significantly limit the wider activities offered by the HE provider.” The University and College Union has criticised this approach as too relaxed. Labour shadow education secretary Kate Green today asked education secretary Gavin Williamson “why masks were required… in March and April, but are not required now when case numbers are much higher?”
The advice in Scotland says universities should offer “support for home working where possible and appropriate, but without detriment to learning”. Institutions should ensure “young people (not fully protected by vaccines) can take part in-person learning and research, together with wider student activities safely”, the rules say. Universities should also include face coverings, one-way systems and good ventilation in plans for the next term.
The Scottish government said it would work with Ucas to communicate vaccination procedures to new starters over the summer – but institutions should inform international students they may access vaccination on arrival to Scotland.
Governments across the UK have stressed the importance next term of regular testing, maintaining track and trace records, and encouraging students to take up vaccinations.