Saturday, 31 Oct 2020

Students told they can go home from university if it is 'for the long term'

Scottish students have been told they can return home from university accommodation – as long as it’s on ‘a long-term basis’.

The Scottish Government has updated its guidance on what those studying higher education can do if they wish to change household.

Students have been urged to remain living at university but if they do decide to permanently go home, they have been asked to follow coronavirus self-isolating rules and not use public transport to get to classes.

They have also been reminded that it is an ‘offence’ to undertake short stays without a ‘reasonable’ excuse.

The news comes as thousands of students across the UK, including in Glasgow, Manchester and Edinburgh, have been forced to self-isolate.

Higher education minister Richard Lochhead said: ‘We would encourage students to remain living in their current accommodation where they are able to, so they can continue to benefit from both a blend of digital and in-person learning, where that is possible and the opportunity to engage with others, within the restrictions, to build new networks and to make new friends.

‘However, we know that many students may be struggling with the prospect of not being able to return home to visit family and other support networks, especially if is the first time in their life they have been away from home.

‘Knowing what to consider in deciding whether to return home will help support wellbeing and enable students to make informed choices, but it is important to stress that adjusting to life away from home is always challenging.’

Current guidance states that people should self-isolate at home for 10 days if they have symptoms of Covid-19 or have tested positive, or 14 days if living with someone who has.

Mr Lochhead has written to principals and student accommodation provider networks to set out the new guidance.

It has been developed in consultation with NUS Scotland and Universities Scotland.

The guidance states that students should ‘consider how you may benefit from in-person learning’ if returning home on a permanent basis.

Students had previously been asked by university bosses to not visit pubs and restaurants this weekend as part of efforts to limit the spread of Covid-19.

NUS Scotland president Matt Crilly said: ‘Today’s guidance provides welcome clarity to the students in halls, who will be considering their next steps.

‘We welcome that students will be able to return home on a permanent basis.

‘However, we are disappointed that the government continues to talk up in-person teaching, which may keep students on campus and increase risks unnecessarily.’

Gerry McCormac, convener of Universities Scotland, said: ‘The Scottish Government’s additional guidance about households puts the emphasis on staying within existing households and avoiding overnight stays elsewhere for now, but not at the expense of an individual’s wellbeing.

‘It also makes clear that a change of household is possible but offers guidance to limit this to cases where a change then become the person’s main or only residence on a long-term basis.’

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie added: ‘Issuing new guidance on a late Sunday evening is no way to communicate clearly and effectively.

‘It is yet another panicky response from a government that should have been ready for this.

‘I warned the First Minister for weeks that this was coming as it was the biggest movement of people since the lockdown.’

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said university students should be able to return home to their families at Christmas as long as the country ‘pulls together’ and observes the new coronavirus rules.

The Government is under pressure to guarantee young people are not confined to their halls of residence over the festive period because of Covid-19 outbreaks on campuses.

Meanwhile a growing number of current and former MPs have called for students who have had their education disrupted by the pandemic to be offered refunds.

Glasgow University said on Saturday it would refund all students in halls of residence a month of rent, along with a £50 payment for food, after a large outbreak of cases.

Former transport minister George Freeman joined Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon, and former Labour education minister Lord Adonis, in pushing for compensation for other students who have been forced into lockdown.

Mr Freeman told the BBC universities should ‘look seriously’ at offering students ‘reduced fees if they’re not getting the full experience’.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced measures in Scotland which came into force on Wednesday which ban indoor visits between households.

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