The majority of Scottish college students will not return to campus for face-to-face teaching this month, the government has confirmed.
A statement published today said that while most university students would not return to campuses until the end of February, colleges would "follow the level guidance for their local authority area", “which in practice means with limited exemptions the majority of college students' studies will be online in January and into February”.
The statement added: “The current state of the pandemic, the impact of suppression measures and the roll-out of the vaccine will all be taken into account in considering whether it is possible for a return at any point.”
The whole of mainland Scotland is currently in level 4 restrictions, where any mixing of households or any travel to and from a level 3 or 4 area can only take place in exceptional circumstances or where there is a reasonable excuse.
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For colleges, that means learning and teaching will be online with the exception of a small number of students for whom face-to-face teaching and in-person assessments are critical to the successful conclusion of their studies. The government said the numbers attending colleges “should still be kept at the absolute essential minimum”.
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Scotland’s minister for FE, HE and science, Richard Lochhead, said detailed guidance for the college sector would be published as soon as possible next week. He added: “These changes reflect the current status of the virus, the reality of the new strain, and the rise in cases in recent weeks.
“The return of students to campus, including returning to term-time accommodation, involves the mass movement of thousands of people across the country. The mixing of people on that scale, including the potential movement of tens of thousands of students to university halls and private-rented flats, simply isn’t safe right now. It would fuel the virus, and that is something no one wants.
“Our immediate priority right now is to say to students, other than in specific special circumstances, they must not return to their campus or term-time accommodation before they are specifically told to do so by their institution.
“We would like to thank everyone for their patience and fortitude in dealing with the pandemic over past months, and we understand this is more difficult news – but we want to give students and staff as much certainty as we can so they can plan effectively. That’s why we are setting this plan out now.
“As we have all seen, this virus moves fast and changes quickly, but even in light of that reality, hopefully by setting out a clear plan that gives certainly for at least the next two months, everyone can now plan with a greater degree of confidence.”
Prior to today's announcement, the EIS teaching union, which represents college lecturers in Scotland, raised concerns over plans by colleges to return to face-to-face teaching.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS calls on all colleges and universities to suspend all face-to-face teaching during this national lockdown and rely on online teaching and learning. There is no reason for lecturers to attend their workplaces; they are not designated as key workers and they should be working from home, as per the government’s advice.
“We will consider all options in order to safeguard the health and safety of our members.”