I’d like to welcome HE members back to the new academic year. I hope that you managed to enjoy some time away from work over the summer, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Below is an HE specific update based upon updated guidance issued by the Scottish Government. Over the course of the summer, ULA has engaged with the Scottish Government in various for a regarding COVID-19, through the Advanced Covid Recovery Group and it’s subgroups, as well as discussion with the DFE and UCEA.
As of Monday 9th August, Scotland moved to ‘beyond level 0’ in terms of mitigation measures and subsequently, there is an impact in the type of mitigation measures that Colleges must put in place for the new academic year. The briefing below draws out some of the key aspects of the Scottish Government guidance for your attention.
Further communications regarding COVID-19 mitigation and other matters will be sent to members over the course of the coming weeks. Please do not hesitate to contact your branch officials, or the HE department at EIS HQ, if you have any concerns or queries regarding the guidance.
Although progress in relation to the pandemic has been positive over the summer period, EIS-ULA will continue to engage with the Scottish Government, UCEA, Universities Scotland and each HE institution to ensure the safety of members in this new academic year.
National Officer HE
Following an announcement made on 3rd August, by the First Minister, Scotland moved to ‘beyond level 0’ as of 9th August 2021. This move has seen a reduction in restrictions that have been in place for a significant period across society.
This reduction in restrictions will mean a new phase of the pandemic in Universities with a return to increased campus learning. The full updated guidance was published by the Scottish Government on 10th August and may be found here.
The guidance itself is predicted on the contents of Scotland’s Strategic Framework regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19). The most up to date version of the strategic framework can be found here.
The Scottish Government has stated that with reductions in restrictions and mitigating measures, institutions are expected to be cautious in their approach and to ensure that they have robust procedures in place for aspects such as outbreak management and wider Health and Safety.
Universities will follow generally ‘society wide’ rules in the ‘Beyond Level 0’ guidance and will not have extensive extra rules or mitigations such as those announced for schools. The Scottish Government has encouraged employers to maintain hybrid working at the beginning of the new term, and this is likely to lead to online or blended learning remaining in place for some time.
Institutions themselves are seen by the Scottish Government as best placed to plan and implement mitigation strategies within learning environments. Mitigations such as ventilation, face coverings and hygiene measures will be key in carrying this forward. Importantly, institutions will also determine their own mix of face-to-face/online delivery models.
Physical distancing is no longer mandated by law; however, the Scottish Government continues to advise that, especially indoors, the continuation of physical distancing measures minimises risk of transmission. The guidance sets out a ‘no less than 1m’ expectation between staff and staff-students.
Face coverings continue to be required in public areas although institutions may choose to apply requirements more widely.
No groupings or bubbles of students/staff will be required. Close contacts will be identified from ‘Test & Protect’ procedures but whole ‘classes’ will not be asked to self-isolate.
Reflecting wider society, the self-isolation rules have changed so that all fully vaccinated adults that are told to self-isolate must do so and obtain a PCR test. If the PCR test result is negative, then the fully vaccinated adult may return to work (or study).
Other baseline measures include:
Good hand hygiene and surface cleaning.
Continued promotion of good ventilation with encouragement of the use of CO2
Outbreak management procedures in place that include active surveillance.
It is strongly recommended that institutions implement a greater level of protective measures for the start of term, with particular attention to those who are not vaccinated.
The importance of robust outbreak management procedures has been made clear to institutions. If there is a local outbreak then additional/previous mitigations may be reintroduced, e.g. Level 0 mitigations.
With it being recommended that institutions implement greater restrictions at the start of term, we believe that in the short-term Universities (and colleges) will be delivering a large amount of online teaching and training, although it may well be the case that blended learning models become more face-to-face over time. The workload implications of blended learning will need local consideration.
Health boards are expected to work with institutions within their area to maximise uptake in vaccination for students, agreeing operational models specific to local requirements.
The Scottish Government hopes to have all adults fully vaccinated by the end of September 2021. In support of this goal, there will be a government communications campaign that includes specific focus on student age persons.
There is an expectation that testing will increase and become more targeted thereby preventing whole groups (or bubbles) needing to self-isolate. In line with changes across society, those who are identified as a close contact must isolate pending a PCR test.
A negative PCR result then allows those fully vaccinated individuals to no longer self-isolate. This also applies to students under the age of 18. If a student is over 18 and not fully vaccinated, then they must complete a full self-isolation period even if they test negative in a PCR.
The EIS has continued to push at Advanced Learning CRG for guidance on ventilation in Universities and Colleges to be improved. The Scottish Government has stated that adequate standards of ventilation must constitute the overall package of mitigating measures on campus.
Appropriate ventilation must be in place alongside the implementation of wider baseline control measures, such as those mentioned earlier in this document, and utilised within a hierarchy of risk controls such as:
Fresh air ventilation.
Restriction/reduction in duration of indoor activity.
Avoiding the use of poorly ventilated space.
Utilizing appropriate air cleaning devices designed to enhance indoor air quality.
Additionally, the Scottish Government recommends that institutions consider the use of CO2 monitors specifically focussed on identifying areas of poor ventilation.
There is specific COVID-19 Ventilation Guidance published by the Scottish Government, that can be found here.
Consultation with trade unions is expected, as per statutory requirements, national and local agreements, as well as within the Scottish Government’s Fair Work Guidance.
Health and Safety representatives should have direct involvement with aspects of COVID-19 mitigation planning at your Institution.
Though there have been broad discussions regarding Covid with Universities Scotland and UCEA, consultation in HE will need to happen locally through current bargaining machinery at each Institution.
Review your working practices and any risk assessment that you may have as an individual (e.g. if you are high risk). Raise any concerns with your line manager, and with your branch officials if they are not resolved.
Seek to agree your working pattern with your line manager. If you are carrying out face-to-face teaching, then ensure your teaching rooms are well ventilated, that physical distancing of at least 1m is maintained together with seating plans. If you have concerns with what you are being asked to do then contact your rep.
Hold a Branch meeting to discuss the Covid safeguards and current risk assessments in your department or school.
Meeting with your management to agree Covid mitigations and amended working, including how blended/hybrid working will be implemented. Review the current risk assessments, especially those in place for face-to-face teaching. Insist on physical distancing (of at least 1m with the expectation of 2m), seating plans and that high risk staff have bespoke risk assessments addressing their individual issues.
Work with your H&S Reps with regards to workplace mitigations. Work on improved ventilation at the University and ask for CO2 monitors to be used to check air quality and ventilation in teaching rooms and to address any concerns.
Management of institutions should be mindful of Scottish Government expectations regarding engagement with Trade Unions and discussions regarding the updated guidance should be taking place.