Student return delayed in Scotland to end of February as rent refund demands made

Students set to return to Scotland in coming weeks have been told to stay at home until at least the end of February, the First Minister has announced.

Universities and college students had been undergoing a ‘staggered return’ to campuses across the country from this week, but that has been further delayed with only students studying medical degrees or on placements, with online learning to begin on January 11.

It means the Scottish Government has avoided the potential of a repeat of the chaos in university campuses in September, which sparked the beginning of the second wave.

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The delay to students returning to campus has been pushed further back

Higher education minister Richard 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.”

The announcement comes as opposition parties backed calls from the National Union of Students for student rents to be refunded for the period students are unable to return to campuses.

NUS Scotland president Matt Crilly welcomed the delay, but said he was concerned the guidance was “short term” and would result in students paying for accommodation they couldn’t use.

He said: “NUS Scotland continues to urge the Scottish Government to commit to online learning as the default position for the semester ahead with exceptions for practical and lab-based courses.

"That way no student is on campus unless absolutely necessary and every student will have the certainty they need to leave their accommodation contracts early. If students don’t need to return this semester, they should be told now.

“As things stand, students are being expected to pay expensive rent for accommodation they can't use. The Scottish Government must intervene and make urgent financial support available to ensure no student is left out of pocket.”

Scottish Conservative shadow education spokesman Jamie Greene backed the calls.

He said: “This morning education minister John Swinney couldn’t answer questions about the situation for students at the Covid-19 committee.

“He has ignored multiple votes in the Scottish Parliament on schools and the Salmond inquiry, and now he has dodged a committee’s questions so that Nicola Sturgeon can announce the answer on TV.

“The SNP Government must urgently deliver rent refunds to students, who will now suffer financially through no fault of their own.

“We need to see this money getting to students immediately, not months down the line when they’re already out of pocket.”

The Scottish Greens’ education spokesperson Ross Greer also called on universities and private student accommodation providers to be “compelled” to provide refunds to students unable to return to campuses.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have no direct role in the provision of student residential accommodation, whether that is managed by universities or private sector organisations. These are judgments that universities and providers have got to make in contact and consultation with their student community, and it's right and appropriate that that is undertaken.

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