Spread of coronavirus in student halls ‘past its worst’

Universities Scotland director Alastair Sim warned further outbreaks among students remain likely.

Spread of coronavirus in student halls ‘past its worst’ Getty Images
Halls: Outbreaks in campuses around the country.

The spread of coronavirus in university halls is “past the worst” but further outbreaks among students are likely, the head of Scotland’s higher education umbrella body has said.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said the vast majority of students had behaved responsibly but a minority “didn’t quite get it”.

He told a committee of MPs he did not think universities were ever going to be in a position where there were no outbreaks, given the sheer infectiousness of the virus.

Hundreds of students across Scotland had to self-isolate following several outbreaks in halls of residence.

Temporary restrictions were placed on students for a weekend last month, barring them from pubs or restaurants or from socialising outside their accommodation in a bid to curb even greater spread of the virus.

Several figures in the university sector gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee at the House of Commons on Thursday.

Mr Sim said: “Particularly with those institutions that started their terms a few weeks ago, we’re kind of getting past the worst.

“What happened was that the overwhelming majority of students behaved extremely responsibly, having lived through this crisis for so long.

“There was a bit of a minority that didn’t quite get it because of the sheer infectiousness of the disease and it did spread more than anyone had foreseen or wanted.”

He said students at Edinburgh Napier University were now beginning to come out of self-isolation, adding: “I don’t think, given the prevalence of the virus, we’re ever going to be in a position where there aren’t any outbreaks among students.”

A number of residential halls had a reduced occupancy and would operate at a loss, he said, but in general “students are staying”.

SNP MP Mhairi Black asked what lessons had been learned and what practices would be maintained after the pandemic.

Mr Sim acknowledged that students who had to self-isolate had faced “really, really difficult circumstances” but said universities understood more about “how to make digital learning experience as good as it can be”.