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The Scottish Government has announced university students will be taught online throughout January and February, with the vast majority not expected back on campuses until the start of March, as part of a revised plan for their return in light of the spread of the new variant of coronavirus (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.
  • 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 online in January and into February.

Richard Lochhead, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, said detailed sectoral guidance will be published as soon as possible next week, but 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 2 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.”