The return of university students to campus after the Christmas holidays will be staggered over a six-week period.
John Swinney confirmed the move to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.
The deputy first minister said colleges and universities have already delivered more than 20,000 rapid-result tests to students looking to return home.
After the break college students should return as planned, in line with the protection level for the area their college is in at that time.
However Swinney, who is also education secretary, said universities are in a different position and require a different approach.
As a result the return of students at the start of the new term will be staggered over “at least six weeks”.
Swinney also reminded MPs there will be no change to the Christmas school holidays.
He pointed out evidence which suggests school closures result in significant harm to children and young people.
Swinney said members of school staff can currently get a coronavirus test whether or not they have symptoms.
He added, after schools return in January, the government will begin piloting routine asymptomatic testing of school staff.