With Staggered Return After Christmas

On Sunday 25 October 2020, BBC News carried a report of details of a strategy to get students home in December and what expectations there of students when they return home, when they return to universities, and how their learning will be undertaken. ...

Covid: 'Staggered return' for students after Christmas break

Staggering the return to universities after Christmas and the use of testing will form the strategy to get students home in December

Scotland's Education Secretary John Swinney has given more details of the plan to allow students to return home.

It follows a spike in coronavirus infections in September when students moved into university accommodation.

Hundreds tested positive across the UK, with thousands told to self-isolate in halls.

Speaking on Politics Scotland, the deputy first minister said the Scottish government was in discussions with the UK government and the other devolved administrations to learn lessons from the experience of early autumn.

He said: "Some of the points we are looking at are staggered returns of students, arrangements for how testing can be part of the architecture of how we handle that return. 

"Also, what expectations we have of students when they are returning home and when they return to universities, and how their learning will be undertaken."

He said the discussions involved "intense detail" to make sure the movement of students both home for Christmas and returning back to university was handled safely to prevent spread of the virus in other parts of the UK.

He said testing programmes would be involved.

"These are some of the options being looked at," he added. "Practicalities are eased if return of students is staggered over a longer period and we are working with institutions because they have to be partners with us on how the learning is undertaken over that period.

"We want to avoid any situation where there is not too much strain on the testing system or on the possibility of the circulation of the virus when students return or when they return to their homes in the first place."

'Clear and coherent' plan

Matt Crilly, president of the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland, said it wanted to see a "clear and coherent" plan from the Scottish government "urgently".

"In terms of a return to campus in the new year, we must avoid a repeat of the mass outbreaks we saw among the student population in the autumn," he said.

"Universities and Colleges need to clearly communicate with their students on what their next semester is going to look like, so that students can make an informed decision on whether they wish to return.

"NUS Scotland continues to call for remote learning to be the default position. That way no student has to go back to campus unless absolutely necessary. No student should be left asking themselves, again, why they've been asked to return for no good reason."

He added: "We welcome that the Scottish government and institutions are looking at mass asymptomatic testing for the student population. We would welcome further discussion on this issue."

Importance of family

On Saturday he told the BBC the Scottish government was doing everything it could to get students home for Christmas.

He said he recognised the importance of family and community occasions but that suppressing the virus was paramount.

Students were asked to stay away from parties, pubs and restaurants for a weekend and were only allowed to return home if they could self-isolate and their households went into quarantine.

At the time Nicola Sturgeon said it was "absolutely our priority" to make sure that students are able to return home for Christmas.

It comes after children in Scotland were asked to stay at home this Halloween.

Meanwhile, students from Edinburgh University staged a protest over their "mistreatment" by the institution during the coronavirus pandemic.

Protesters claimed the university made a "false promise" of hybrid learning and said many students would not have taken out leases on flats if they had known most learning would be online.

They also claimed the university's treatment of first years had been "terrible", saying the university had "locked them in halls of residences with zero regard for their mental health and wellbeing".

'World-class education'

Students gathered to protest in the city's Bristo Square on Saturday, calling for better treatment and services and an "actual provision of hybrid learning", saying if the university cannot provide this then a cut in fees for the online semester is needed.

The university said academic and support staff had been working "tirelessly" to provide students with the world-class education that they expect from the institution.

A spokeswoman said: "We have been working closely with the Students' Union and other student groups to ensure that their views are heard at the highest level.

"Students are receiving a hybrid learning experience, in line with Scottish government guidance, with some in-person teaching taking place on campus. We are delivering more than 95,000 hours of teaching this semester and more than 35,000 hours of these are scheduled to take place on campus."

Covid: 'Staggered return' for students after Christmas break - BBC News