Calls to delay student return to Scottish universities until February

Students should be told to stay at their family home until February due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have said.

Plans for a staggered return of students to campuses around Scotland are in place, with students having begun their return to campuses on Monday.

However, the Scottish Government is expected to make an announcement within the next day of further changes for students following this week’s announcement of a fresh ‘Stay At Home’ lockdown.

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Richard Lochhead, the higher education minister, told universities in a letter on Monday that anything that can be done online “must be done online” and said students who were set to arrive after January 25 should expect a further delay.

Students at Edinburgh University pre-Covid-19.
Students at Edinburgh University pre-Covid-19.

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie, repeated calls for asymptomatic testing to be rolled out at universities and for the return of students to be delayed until February.

He said: “Students and universities have been left in the dark once again about the start of the new term. They should be advised without delay that in person teaching won’t start until after February.

"Students need clarity about what their studies will look like for the forthcoming year. They need to know if there will be in person teaching and how it will be phased in.

"Many students are stuck paying for student accommodation or private housing far from home. The Government will need to ensure that these students are supported with a proper rent rebate.

"Many of them have made huge sacrifices to keep others safe. They should not be punished financially for doing so.”

The comments come after the return of students to campuses in September sparked the beginning of the second wave of Covid-19 amid mass outbreaks in student halls.

NUS Scotland president Matt Crilly also called on the Scottish Government to provide rent rebates for affected students and for online learning to be the default position.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are looking urgently this week, working with universities, unions and student representatives, as to whether any further changes are required to the planned staggered return for university students.

“As set out in existing guidance, the message to students remains that they should not return to their term-time accommodation until in person teaching resumes, as advised by their institution.”

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