University students asked to prioritise public health

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Scotland's universities have asked students to "prioritise public health" as they return to classes this week.

Cases of coronavirus in Scotland have risen in recent weeks, with more than 200 identified on Sunday.

The principals of Scotland's 19 higher education institutions have written a joint letter to students addressing the challenges caused by Covid-19.

It calls on students to "look out for each other, and the wider community" in a bid to limit spread of the virus.

And it says campuses and teaching have been adapted to "keep you safe".

"Our top priority as universities, in the midst of a pandemic, is to keep you and our staff safe and to contribute to keeping everyone else in our towns and cities, across Scotland as safe as possible," the statement said.

"Campuses will look and feel different this term. With a blended approach to teaching in the first semester there will be fewer people on campus than usual and our spaces will be reconfigured to support physical distancing, enhanced hygiene protocols and the use of tech to support NHS Scotland's Test and Protect contact tracing system.

"As students, we ask you to recognise the important role and responsibility that you have, on and off campus, to keep yourself, and the wider communities around you, safe from coronavirus."

Its publication follows reports that police were called to deal with a large gathering of students at a St Andrews beach on Friday.

At the time rules on outdoor gatherings limited groups to no more than 15 people from five households. New rules introduced on Monday will limit all gatherings to maximum of six.

'This isn't what I expected from university'

Image source, Gordon Edwards
Image caption,
Gordon is due to start a social work degree at Glasgow Caledonian University

Gordon Edwards is volunteering with a support team helping newly-arrived students at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Freshers week will be online and when terms starts properly there will be few face-to-face classes.

"There are a few people thinking: 'This isn't what I expected when I went to university'," said the 21-year-old who is starting a degree in social work this term.

Originally from the north of England, Gordon will be moving into student accommodation next week.

"We're not even allowed to have anyone to help move stuff in," said Gordon. "Our families can't go into our rooms."

Covid changes a 'huge undertaking'

A survey by Universities Scotland accompanying the principals' statement found widespread changes to campuses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Two thirds of institutions have made public health information part of the student registration process while 93% have made university accommodation available to some students for two weeks ahead of the start of term to allow them to quarantine.

Teaching and study spaces have been changed to support physical distancing and technology is being used to "track staff and student movement on and around campus".

Professor Gerry McCormac, convener of Universities Scotland and principal and vice chancellor of Stirling University, said universities have "worked tirelessly to ensure everyone's safety as we plan for the new academic year."

He added: "It has been a huge undertaking, with substantial adaptations to courses, timetables, and to the physical and online spaces needed to support them and ensure public health guidance is implemented.

"The entire university community has been part of this planning process in every institution, up and down the country."

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