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Covid in Scotland: ‘Struggling’ students told they can return home

Image copyright PA Media Students who are struggling at university accommodation following a spate of Covid outbreaks have been told they can return home.But Education Minister Richard Lochhead said he does not expect a “mass exodus” after updated guidance was published by the Scottish government.The guidance also says students can visit parents if there is…

Student in Glasgow halls

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Students who are struggling at university accommodation following a spate of Covid outbreaks have been told they can return home.

But Education Minister Richard Lochhead said he does not expect a “mass exodus” after updated guidance was published by the Scottish government.

The guidance also says students can visit parents if there is a “reasonable excuse” such as a family emergency.

But short stays without one are still deemed an “offence”.

The guidelines were issued after a flood of complaints from students who felt they were trapped in university or college accommodation.

Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Lochhead said: “I know many students are struggling at the moment but I also know many students accept that they want to be at university.

“It is challenging at the moment, especially if they are self-isolating, but they are enjoying the opportunity of making new connections, of at least meeting their tutors, albeit a lot of their learning is online.

“So I don’t expect a mass exodus from Scotland’s campuses but the opportunity is there for those that are struggling.”

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Media captionMinister Richard Lochhead said if you have a “reasonable excuse” you can leave your student accommodation

The guidelines say that students can move to another home permanently which means they would have to change household.

Students who decide to do this have been asked to follow self-isolating rules and not use public transport – as well as to “consider how you may benefit from in person learning”.

Notice periods have also been introduced for those permanently leaving student halls – either seven days’ notice or 28 days if the tenancy began after 28 September.

The new guidelines have been welcomed by the students’ union NUS Scotland.

Its 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.

“We continue to call on the Scottish government to strengthen teaching guidance so remote learning is the default, and a reality for as many students as possible.”

‘Halls of horror’

But Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the picture was still one of “confusion” and criticised the fact the guidance was published so late on Sunday.

He told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland: “On one hand students are being told they can go home, then they are being told they can go home if there are certain circumstances and I think there are still questions over what those circumstances are.”

Mr Ross also said ministers should have anticipated the problems given the spike in cases witnessed in the US when colleges and universities returned for the new academic year.

He added: “This guidance should have been absolutely crystal clear before these young people left home and certainly before they got to university and were, in many cases, locked up in halls of horror.”

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Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the guidance had provided some clarity for students but called on ministers to go further.

Speaking on the programme, he said: “We do need to have that asymptomatic routine testing to make sure that people know if they are negative so they can home and continue their studies.”

Mr Rennie also called for rent rebates and mental health support for students after a spate of outbreaks across the country, which he claimed were predictable

He added: “This was the biggest movement of people since the start of the lockdown so it was inevitable that we would have this.”

Student health

The body representing Scottish universities said student welfare must be a priority.

Prof Gerry McCormac, Convener of Universities Scotland, said: “With the support of their universities, students need to choose what is right for their own physical and mental health.

“Unfortunately the current situation with this pandemic means these choices do need to be balanced within the wider public health context.

“There is a real benefit, we believe, in staying at university this semester and benefiting from the blend of both digital and in-person learning and the wider range of services and support that is available.”

Prof McCormac added: “It has been a very difficult start to the new academic year for the entire student community, both those returning to university and in particular, those attending for the first time.”

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Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus.