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College and university returns postponed

College and university students across Scotland are to be taught online throughout January and February, after the Scottish Government ordered that a return to on-campus education should be postponed until March.

This is part of a revised plan for the resumption of further and higher education, in light of the spread of a new variant of COVID-19.

Only very small numbers of students will be allowed back on campus this month, for example, those:

  • who have remained over the winter break
  • whose attendance is critical and whose education cannot be delivered remotely or postponed, essential placements,  or for reasons of student well-being

According to the government, where attendance is time-sensitive to the ability to graduate and cannot be delivered remotely or further postponed, very limited numbers of students may be able to return from mid-February. However, all arrangements are subject to a future review of COVID-19 conditions.

Colleges will follow the level guidance for their local authority area which in practice means with limited exemptions the majority of  college students’ studies will be on line in January and into February

The current state of the pandemic, the impact of suppression measures and the roll out of the vaccine will all be taken into account in considering whether it is possible for a return at any point.

Richard Lochhead, minister for further education, higher education and science, said detailed sectoral guidance will be published as soon as possible next week. He clarified that his basic message to students remains that they should not return to their term-time accommodation until in-person teaching resumes, as advised by their institution.

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

“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.

“Our immediate priority right now is to say to students, 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.

“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 for phase two of the restart dates, cannot happen until at least the middle of next month for the majority of students, supported by rapid-result testing on arrival.

“We would like to thank everyone for their patience and fortitude in dealing with the pandemic over past months, and we understand this is more difficult news – but we want to give students and staff as much certainty as we can so they can plan effectively. That’s why we are setting this plan out now.

“As we have all seen, this virus moves fast and changes quickly but even in light of that reality, hopefully by setting out a clear plan that gives certainly for at least the next two months, everyone can now plan with a greater degree of confidence.”

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