Universities are being advised to postpone freshers’ week when students return in September due to the risk of coronavirus spreading during “mass activities”.
A Scottish Government advisory group warns there will be a proportion of students arriving on campus for the new academic year having only had one vaccine dose.
The advisory sub-group on colleges and universities says there may be a need for further mitigations in higher education as Scotland moves beyond level zero of coronavirus restrictions.
It says all efforts should be made to maximise vaccination rates for students and staff, particularly international students.
There were several significant outbreaks in student accommodation last year, with universities accounting for 3% of all of Scotland’s coronavirus cases between September and November.
The guidance says there should be appropriate advice for students entering halls of residence, as well as regular testing and support for those who have to self-isolate.
It says: “Recognising the higher levels of risk associated with the start of the academic year (due to lower levels of vaccination, the likely state of the epidemic, the impacts of the travel, and the establishment of new student households), institutions will wish to pay due consideration to the nature of freshers’ week and other mass activities at that stage.
“Advice would be to postpone these activities for a few weeks if possible, and to focus on activities involving smaller numbers where distancing can be applied and ventilation enhanced.”
The guidance says virtual freshers’ weeks and online learning may be required in the first few weeks of term.
Responding to the advice, the National Union of Students (NUS) said students should be treated fairly.
Matt Crilly, NUS Scotland president, said: “The health and safety of students and staff is of central importance and that is why NUS Scotland have been calling for the acceleration of vaccines amongst the student population as a priority giving them as much protection as possible before the return to campus.
“Students must be treated fairly – we are keen to work with the Scottish Government to develop coherent guidance that ensures parity for student associations if pubs and bars are open and able to host unofficial freshers’ week events.”