First minister Nicola Sturgeon said today that "no more than 5 per cent of the total" number of college and university students could be brought back for face-to-face teaching from yesterday where that was "critical".
The Scottish government's plans, published this afternoon, state that a small number can be added to that at the next stage. It explains colleges and universities have “key roles” in supporting the growth and personal development of young people and in developing the talent that will drive the country’s economic recovery.
Covid road map: School return dates for Scottish pupils
Background: £60m Covid funding for colleges and universities
South of the border: All students to return from 8 March
“They also act as anchor institutions in our communities, providing stability and driving economic growth," they add.
Reopening colleges: Limited face-to-face teaching
The road map states that in January universities began a staggered return of undergraduate students, with a small number of students returning to critical in-person learning, and colleges have been following the guidance in place for their local authority area’s protection level.
“The safety of staff and students is paramount and while we are making progress, both in suppressing the virus and in getting people vaccinated, continued caution in our fight against Covid is necessary. As such, the return of students to in-person learning will continue to be limited," the plan states.
“In addition to the students allowed to return for critical in-person learning under current arrangements, when conditions allow we will look to progressively broaden the scope of those allowed to return with priority continuing to be given to the maintenance of workforce pipelines in critical sectors, such as health and social care and early learning and childcare; as well as students whose attendance is time-sensitive and critical to the successful conclusion of their studies and cannot be delivered remotely or postponed.”
The Scottish government strategic framework states that this can happen in three weeks' time at the earliest – from 15 March – subject to a set of conditions being met.
All primary pupils in Scotland could be back in schools by that point, according to first minister Nicola Sturgeon, and that date could also herald the return of more senior secondary students for some of the school week.
Yesterday, prime minister Boris Johnson said he planned for all colleges in England to reopen for face-to-face teaching for all students from 8 March. Students will need to be Covid-tested four times in the first fortnight, with subsequent home testing, and staff will also be tested twice a week.
Students and staff in England will also be advised to wear face coverings not just in communal areas of the college but also in classrooms where social distancing is not possible.
Matt Crilly, president of NUS Scotland, said: “This year hasn’t been what students signed up for, many studying online at home and facing months of uncertainty about the future of their learning.
"With many college students having missed out on practical learning, we need the Scottish government to work with colleges, awarding bodies and unions to ensure that students are not academically disadvantaged by the pandemic and are fully supported to complete their courses safely and successfully.”
A spokesperson for Colleges Scotland said: “Scotland’s colleges continue to operate safely and in line with current restrictions. Online and remote learning will continue for the majority of students, and the first minister’s announcement today gives colleges the ability to bring up to 5 per cent of learners back on to campus where it is essential.”