Freshers’ weeks ‘will be different this year’ amid Covid fears

Education secretary John Swinney said the virus could spread quickly among new university students.

University freshers’ weeks will be different this year amid concerns coronavirus could spread quickly among new students, the education secretary has said.

John Swinney said there have been extensive discussions around the return of students when the new academic year begins.

Further guidance for Covid-19 safety in higher education is due to be published on Tuesday.

Swinney was asked about freshers’ weeks events at the daily coronavirus briefing on Monday.

He said: “I do have concerns about freshers’ week, and there have been extensive discussions between government, the universities, colleges, student unions and with the NUS (National Union of Students) about the measures we’ve got to put in place to try to ensure that freshers’ week is undertaken in a different fashion to what most students would have experienced over time.

“We have to be conscious of the risks that come from large-scale socialisation.”

He said universities would deliver teaching by “blended learning” to reduce the number of students on campus at any one time.

Swinney added: “I understand how exciting and thrilling the prospect of coming to university is for students and freshers’ week is very much part of the character of that experience.

“But as we have laboured throughout this pandemic, this year is different and it has to be pursued in a safe fashion where we follow guidance and take steps to make sure that everyone is keeping safe.”

Earlier, the director of umbrella group Universities Scotland said students would no longer be sitting next to each other in large lecture halls.

Alastair Sim said the trend would be towards “digital learning” with some face-to-face teaching.

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