Students ‘shouldn’t be at university unless necessary’

The NUS is concerned about students welfare amid the pandemic as they return to campus.

Students: NUS say students should not return to university. Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images
Students: NUS say students should not return to university.

Students leaders have called for online learning to be the ‘default’ position for universities as students begin to return to campus.

Undergraduate students at the University of Edinburgh headed back to campus on Monday as part of the previously agreed staggered return of students.

But the National Union of Students (NUS) criticised the uncertainty for students and said they shouldn’t be on campus “unless absolutely necessary”.

Universities Scotland called for urgent clarity from the government about changes to restrictions around in-person and online teaching following new lockdown restrictions.

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NUS Scotland president, Matt Crilly, also called for rent rebates for students paying for accommodation they are unable to access.

Mr Crilly said: “NUS Scotland continues to call for online learning to be the default position.

“That way no student has to be on campus unless absolutely necessary and every student can make an informed decision about whether they want to return to their student accommodation.

“Students are being expected to pay rent for at least six weeks for accommodation they can’t use.

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“That is grossly unfair.

“We are seeking urgent clarity from the Scottish Government and universities to ensure no student is left out of pocket and that every university has a no-detriment policy in place, so no student is academically disadvantaged.”

The Scottish Government has previously said rent is a matter for universities.

A spokesman for Universities Scotland said: “We are seeking urgent clarity from Scottish Government about what changes they plan to the staggered resumption of in-person teaching, in the light of the changed prevalence of the virus in society.

“We want to give students as much certainty as possible and any student who is currently unsure about what to do should contact their university for their latest guidance.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.


Blunder over envelope colour for over 70s vaccine letter

The Scottish Government will now send out white, windowed envelopes after a supply issue for blue ones.

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Blunder: Blue envelopes swapped for white ones after supply issue.

White envelopes will be used for the first tranche of coronavirus appointments for those aged 70-79 because blue ones were not ready in time, the Scottish Government has announced.

As the inoculation programme moves through priority groups, several health board areas are beginning to send out letters telling those in the age group when they will receive their first dose of the Covid-19 jab.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman urged people to look out for the “very distinctive” blue envelopes, which are being given priority by Royal Mail.

However on Sunday evening the Scottish Government announced that white, windowed envelopes, with a distinctive black NHS logo on the right, will be used as a temporary measure as the blue envelopes are not ready.

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It said the change has no impact on the vaccination programme timetable, with the first appointment letters expected to be delivered on Monday as planned.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The blue envelopes we hoped to use were not ready in time for the first tranche of vaccine appointment invitations so distinctive NHS branded white envelopes are being used as a temporary measure.

“The absolute priority remains the rollout of vaccinations and this temporary change to the envelope colour has absolutely no impact to our timetable.

“We continue to strongly urge everyone in the 70-79 age group to check all their post in the coming weeks and take up the offer of the vaccine when it is received.

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“Patients may receive a phone call invitation from their local health board as part of the appointment process and all patients aged 75-79 in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde will be invited via phone. ”

A new booking system is also being used by several health boards to schedule appointments for patients in order of priority.

Greater Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Lothian are among the NHS boards which will use the system.

The Scottish Government has said they are on track for all those aged 80 and over to have received their first dose of the vaccine by the end of the first week in February.

This age group will not receive a blue envelope as they are being contacted by telephone or another form of letter.

Ms Freeman said: “I would urge everyone to take up their appointment when they are offered one.

“The vaccination programme is one of three key ways we are working to beat this virus, along with our expanded testing programme to identify cases and break chains of transmission and the important lockdown restrictions everyone in Scotland must follow.

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“All these measures work to greatest effect when they work together.”

Rise in referrals of children living with domestic abuse

The NSPCC said average monthly referrals have risen more than 30% during the pandemic.

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Abuse: Charity says referrals have risen more than 30%.

Referrals of children living in homes affected by domestic abuse have increased more than 30% since the start of the pandemic, a charity has said.

Figures from the NSPCC children’s charity show the average monthly referrals of children living in such homes rose from 32 a month during January through March to 42 throughout the rest of last year.

A total of 377 referrals were made by the charity to authorities such as police and social workers between April 1 and December 31.

Concerned neighbours have increasingly reported hearing non-stop arguing and children crying to the charity’s confidential helpline for adults worried about youngsters.

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One member of the public who called the helpline for advice said: “For the past few weeks, I’ve been hearing loud and aggressive shouting between a man and woman who live a few doors away from me.

“They’re at it pretty much every day and it generally lasts a couple of hours. Sometimes I hear their children crying when the parents are arguing.

“I’ve only really noticed this since I’ve been at home on furlough. I’m worried the kids aren’t being looked after properly.”

The charity said that left unaddressed, such situations can have profound and long-term impacts on children’s physical and mental wellbeing.

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Joanna Barrett, NSPCC Scotland policy and public affairs manager, said: “With families facing increased pressure behind closed doors, lockdown restrictions have made some children more vulnerable to experiencing domestic abuse, as well as other forms of abuse and neglect.

“It is vital that no child becomes invisible at this time, and support is available and provided now to all children and families who need it.

“It is also so important that people speak out if they are concerned about a child. Our helpline experts are there to answer any questions and concerns, provide reassurance or take quick action if we feel a child is in danger.”

The charity said young people who experience domestic abuse can have trouble learning, experience depression or suicidal thoughts, or develop eating disorders, drugs or alcohol problems.

One 13-year-old told the helpline: “Recently my mum has been yelling at me and calling me names for no apparent reason. My parents fight a lot, like really a lot.

“My dad overreacts but mum makes the situation worse. Today my parents got in a huge argument that included a lot of shouting and my dad was throwing things at my mum.

“I was shocked because none of their fights have got physical before, and now I am wondering how bad things could get.

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“My parents don’t talk anymore and they treat me like their little messenger passing comments between them. It is really affecting me as I constantly feel anxious and cry myself to sleep. I really need help.”

Anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse, or has concerns that someone else may be, can contact the NSPCC’s helpline for information and advice on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk.


Applications set to open for £25m wedding sector fund

Eligible businesses such as photographers, wedding venues and florists can apply for up to £25,000.

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Fund: Businesses can apply for grants up to £25,000.

A £25m fund to support the wedding sector which has suffered a “severe impact” from the coronavirus pandemic will open to applications this week.

The fund will provide one-off grants of up to £25,000 for eligible businesses in the sector which have been hit by the impact of Covid-19, including wedding venues, photographers, florists, caterers and suppliers.

The Scottish Government said that in recognition of the ongoing challenges faced by the sector, a further £10m has been added to the £15m announced in December.

The fund will be managed regionally by Scotland’s three enterprise agencies – South of Scotland Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

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Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said: “The pandemic has had a severe impact on Scotland’s wedding sector, and we know that the current restrictions, while entirely necessary in our fight against Covid-19, continue to take their toll on the sector.

“I’d encourage all those who think they are eligible to find out more about applying – we want to help as many businesses survive this pandemic as we can.

“We have allocated over £3bn to help businesses since the start of this pandemic. However, we know it can never compensate for the unprecedented effect this has had on business.

“We will continue to work with the resources available to us to protect businesses and build a stronger recovery for Scotland.”

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Under current coronavirus rules, no more than five people can attend a marriage ceremony or civil partnership registrations in level four areas, and wedding receptions cannot take place.

In levels one, two and three, no more than 20 people can attend a wedding ceremony and reception.

Scottish Wedding Industry Alliance (SWIA) co-founder Caroline Inchyra said: “On behalf of the Scottish wedding industry, we are delighted that the sector has secured £25m funding from the Scottish Government.

“We must thank the Scottish Government for recognising the wedding industry as a vital sector in the Scottish economy, and the enterprise agencies for working with us to ensure this fund has as much impact as possible.

“This funding will give renewed hope to the many businesses who have been unable to operate in a viable way for almost a year.

“The SWIA looks forward to a continued positive working relationship with Scottish Government as the wedding industry navigates a path through the most difficult trading conditions this highly resilient sector has ever faced.”

Other businesses eligible to apply to the fund include videographers, marquee hire (including tipis), wedding attire and entertainment such as bands, DJs, pipers and string quartets.

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Dawn Robson, of Blooms Florist in Dumfries, welcomed the news of the fund after her business suffered from the impact of the pandemic last year.

She said: “I ended up with only two wedding bookings in the whole of 2020, which was completely devastating.

“I am already seeing bookings being cancelled for 2021, with a number of couples deciding to move their weddings back to 2022.

“It has been such a difficult time for everyone, but the wedding industry in particular has been devastated.

“It is good news to see this new fund open specifically for the wedding industry, with any help we can receive really appreciated.”


Laser system could help cancer removal be more precise

The system is being developed by scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

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Cancer: Laser system could help surgeons be more precise.

A new laser system that could help surgeons remove cancer more precisely and safely is being developed by scientists.

Experts at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh are developing a new system that will help surgeons distinguish cancer cells in much better resolution, and remove them without damaging healthy surrounding tissue.

Professor Jonathan Shephard has been given £1.2m by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to develop the system.

The new system will be based around ultrafast picosecond lasers that deliver energy in a series of pulses that are one trillionth of a second long.

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The team has already proved the concept works for colorectal cancers, and are now working with clinicians at the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust to develop the new system for brain cancers.

Professor Shephard said: “Previously we focused on colorectal cancers. We proved in the lab that our laser system can remove cancer cells in a way that restricts damage to the surrounding, healthy cells – within the width of a human hair.

“Because the laser pulses are so short, there is no time for heat to burn the surrounding tissue, which is what happens with current surgical tools.

“We’re building on our understanding of lasers in colorectal cancer surgery towards clinical application, and working on adapting it for brain, head and neck cancers, where it could have huge benefits for patients.

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“The most important principle of any cancer surgery is to ensure that all cancer cells are removed; failure to do so will result in the cancer coming back.

“This is an ultimate test of precision, even microscopic loss of healthy tissue and damage to nearby vital structures can have severe functional consequences and a huge impact on quality of life.”

The team will also focus on developing a flexible, optical fibre based system that can target and remove cancer cells two orders of magnitude smaller than current technology.

Professor David Jayne, a consultant surgeon at Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust, said: “Surgical lasers open up exciting new approaches for cancer surgery.

“The precision of a laser combined with imaging to accurately discriminate cancer from normal tissue will greatly enhance the ability of surgeons to completely remove cancers with minimal side-effects for patients”

The team will be working on developing the system over the next three years.


Temperatures set to fall after yellow alert for snow and ice

The Met Office issued a yellow weather warning from 4pm on Sunday to 11am on Monday.

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Temperatures could fall as low as -13C following a yellow alert for snow and ice across parts of Scotland. 

The Met Office issued a yellow weather warning from 4pm on Sunday to 11am on Monday. 

The worst affected areas will be in the Northern Isles, Moray, parts of Aberdeenshire, the Highlands and the west coast including Lanarkshire and Ayrshire.

Drivers have been warned that the wintry weather could affect the roads.

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STV weather presenter Philip Petrie said temperatures could drop as low as -13C on Monday night – the coldest night of the winter so far. 

He said: ”On Saturday night temperatures dropped to lows of -11.4C in Dalwhinnie, which meant that on Sunday temperatures were slow to rise during the day with many areas struggling to get above freezing. 

“Once again on Sunday night we see widespread frost developing for many central and eastern parts thanks to clear skies and dry conditions, but with further wintry showers expected to move in from the west overnight there is a risk that the rain hitting the frozen ground will turn to ice – possibly causing some travel disruptions through Monday morning. 

“The worst affected areas will be the Northern Isles, Moray, the north of Aberdeenshire, the Highlands stretching down the western side of the country down to Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Dumbartonshire.

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“After an initially showery start to the day on Monday, the showers will fizzle out through the evening leaving another dry and clear night – giving the potential for our coldest night of the winter so far. Back at the start of January temperatures reached a low of -12.3C in Loch Glascarnoch, but on Monday night there is the potential for temperatures to drop to -13C.”


Boy, 12, struck by train in critical condition in hospital

The boy was hit by a train at Prestwick Town railway station in South Ayrshire on Saturday night.

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Boy was hit by train at Prestwick Town railway station.

A 12-year-old boy is in a critical condition in hospital after being struck by a train at a railway station in South Ayrshire.

The boy, who was not on the tracks at any point, was hit at Prestwick Town railway station just after 7.20pm on Saturday night.

He was taken by ambulance to hospital, where he remains in a critical conditon.

British Transport Police (BTP) officers say the incident is being treated as an accident and are appealing for anyone with information to come forward.

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BTP said in a statement: “Last night (Saturday 23 January 2021) at just after 7.20pm, BTP Officers were called to Prestwick Town Railway Station, South Ayrshire, after reports of a 12-year-old boy being struck by a train.

“Colleagues from Police Scotland also attended.   The Scottish Ambulance Service took the young man to hospital where he remains in a critical condition.  

“The incident is currently being treated as an accident.  If you have any information about this incident, please contact BTP by texting 61016 or calling 0800 40 50 40 quoting reference 432 of 23/1/2021.”


Women rescued from Ben Lomond charged with Covid breach

Two women charged in connection with culpable and reckless conduct after needing assistance from emergency services.

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Two women were rescued from summit of Ben Lomond.

Two women have been charged with breaching coronavirus restrictions after being rescued from Ben Lomond in Stirlingshire.

The women, in their twenties, had travelled from Fife to go walking but needed to phone for help after getting into difficulty in poor weather on Saturday afternoon.

Lomond Mountain Rescue Team and emergency services assisted the two walkers from near the summit of Ben Lomond to the foot of the mountains by around 6.30pm.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Officers were called to assist Mountain Rescue partners on Ben Lomond at around 2pm on Saturday, 23 January, 2021 after two female walkers requested assistance to descend the hill in deteriorating weather conditions.

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“The women were assisted and walked off the hill and both uninjured. They have been charged in connection with culpable and reckless conduct.”

G Kelly & S Tinley via Lomond Mountain Rescue Team (@LomondMRT)

Coronavirus travel restrictions are in place across the whole of mainland Scotland – meaning people should only leave their homes for an essential purpose, including caring responsibilities, essential shopping, exercise and being part of an extended household.

Sturgeon will ‘refute’ allegations of misleading parliament

First Minister says she doesn't accept claims made by her predecessor Alex Salmond that she broke the ministerial code.

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Nicola Sturgeon says she doesn't accept claims made by Alex Salmond.

Nicola Sturgeon has said she will refute accusations she misled the Scottish Parliament – a claim made by her predecessor as first minister Alex Salmond – when she appears before a committee of MSPs.

Asked about Salmond’s claims on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, she said: “I don’t accept that and I will refute that vigorously.”

Sturgeon said she had hoped to appear before the Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints this coming week, but her appearance had been delayed by a “couple of weeks”.

She said: “I will sit before that committee and I will set out my account of what happened, given the very difficult situation that I faced, and people can make their own judgements on that.”

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Salmond has claimed that his successor as First Minister misled MSPs with “false and manifestly untrue” statements about when she first knew of sexual harassment allegations against him.

But Sturgeon said she does not believe she lied to parliament and Deputy First Minister John Swinney says she will use her appearance before the inquiry to dispel the “absolute nonsense” put forward by her predecessor.

Sturgeon initially told Holyrood she first heard of complaints of sexual misconduct against Salmond when they met at her home on April 2, 2018.

It later emerged she had a meeting with Salmond’s chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, in her Holyrood office four days earlier.

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The SNP leader told the Scottish Parliament committee she “forgot” about that encounter.

Asked by Marr if Salmond was “spinning false conspiracy theories”, Sturgeon said: “What I certainly reflect on is that at times I appear to be simultaneously accused of colluding with Mr Salmond to somehow cover up accusations of sexual harassment on the one hand.

“And then on the other hand, being part of some dastardly conspiracy to bring him down.

“Neither of those are true.”

She continued: “I, at the time I became aware of all of this, just tried hard not to interfere with what was going on and not to do anything that would see these swept aside rather than properly investigated.”

Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had made “mistakes” in its handling of the complaints, which would be the subject of the Holyrood committee’s inquiry.

More than 23,000 given coronavirus vaccine in last 24 hours

The First Minister said on Sunday that 95% of care home residents have now been given the vaccine.

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Covid: Vaccine roll out continues across Scotland.

More than 23,000 people have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in the last 24 hours, figures have shown.

On Sunday, the latest figures showed 404,038 people have received their first coronavirus vaccination, an increase of 23,371 since Saturday.

The figures also stated that 5383 people have received their second dose.

It follows comments made by the First Minister on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, during which she said 95% of care home residents have now been vaccinated.

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Nicola Sturgeon said: “We took a deliberate decision in line with JCVI advice to focus initially on vaccinating older residents of care homes.”

She continued: “I heard Matt Hancock on the programme earlier say that about three quarters of care home residents in England had been vaccinated, in Scotland that figure right now is 95% of care home residents.”

The First Minister said this approach was more “resource intensive” and Scotland was now “rapidly catching up” on vaccinating over-80s in the community.

She added: “We’re all working to the same targets, overall I think we will see that we all are making good progress through this vaccination programme.”

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Sunday’s figures released by the Scottish Government stated there were 1195 new cases of Covid-19 reported, with 2011 in hospital with the virus.

Of that number, 157 people were in intensive care, a decrease of two from Saturday.

The total number of deaths after confirmed coronavirus in Scotland now stands at 5705 after one death was reported on Sunday.

Reported deaths from coronavirus are typically lower on weekends as register offices are usually closed.


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