ON the day that tens of thousands of young people in Scotland are receiving their exam results, it would be only natural for them to be considering what lies ahead.

For many across the country, the prospect of going to college or university is among their top priorities. 

But with the coronavirus pandemic still a major part of our lives, what should they expect from the ‘new normal’ in further education?

Haven’t people been in halls over summer?

Yes, they have. 

Some students have been unable to travel home during lockdown and instead had to stay within their residence – using current public health advice. 

But with the widening of phases and the return to university and college, the guidance for student halls will too have to be widened to help minimise the risk of transmission of the coronavirus. 

What does the Scottish Government say?

Guidance on the Scottish Government website accepts that “the accommodation setting is an important factor in student life; it is their home for the academic year.”

They added that “overly restrictive” settings can have a negative impact on student mental health – therefore adding that keeping students and staff safe should be accompanied by providing “as far as possible” a positive experience for students. 

What key changes could there be?

Arriving at halls:

Moving out of your family home and into university or college is a big step.

It's normally full of emotion, with family and friends wanting to help with the move and see you off onto your next life adventure.

But things, of course, have to change as a result of the virus - with new measures being put in place to keep things as safe as possible.

Among the measures include:

  • Staggered arrival times for students, thereby supporting physical distancing
  • A limited number of visitors who can assist with the move
  • Strict adherence to physical distancing, use of face coverings in enclosed spaces and handwashing periodically.

Forming student households:

A big worry for many new students is being thrown into flats with complete strangers, and never before has that been so daunting than with the added extra of having to self-isolate with them.

Given the significance of the Test and Protect strategy, where households have to self-isolate if anyone has symptoms, the Scottish Government is advising students and providers to work together to determine student preferences around household composition. 

As a result, accommodation providers are being urged to give consideration to student preferences – to allow for the best experience possible in the result of further lockdown or self-isolation measures.

Glasgow Times:

What makes a ‘household’? 

Where accommodation is provided in the form of flats with shared cooking and bathroom facilities each “cluster flat” will normally be considered a household.  

If student accommodation is provided in a different format, for example longer corridors of single rooms, the composition of “household” will be informed by the areas shared by groups of students. 

In these circumstances, the size of the household should be considered carefully to ensure students can access facilities safely and in line with physical distancing guidelines.  The placement of students within households is at the discretion of the accommodation provider.

Physical distancing will not be required for members of a cluster flat (as noted above, flats with shared cooking and bathroom facilities) when within the household – but will be necessary when they are out of their household zone.

If a student wishes to move from one household to another, the accommodation provider should ensure that the risk of spread of COVID-19 is reduced as far as possible. 

Shared facilities:

Households should be limited in size to ensure students can access kitchens, cleaning and washing facilities and other shared spaces in line with physical distancing.

Students should also be given appropriate resources to keep shared areas clean.

The Scottish Government also recognises that shared bathrooms present “one of the biggest risks for increased spread of the virus.”

Where communal toilets are available outside of households, providers should implement measures to decrease this risk as far as possible. 

This should include increased cleaning, and may include reducing access to a one in, one out basis. Cleaning materials should also be provided for users to ‘clean as they go’.

Social spaces:

The Scottish Government accepts that the use of commons places within the accommodation building is “important to the student experience”, and any lack of such would have a “detrimental effect on student health and welfare”.

As a result, they encourage accommodation providers to seek ways to utilise these areas in the safest way possible. 

This includes: 

  • Additional hand washing and sanitising facilities
  • Physical distancing 
  • Increased cleaning 
  • Face coverings in enclosed spaces

Gyms, places of worship, shops, bars and restaurants within accommodation buildings should only open in line with the relevant Scottish Government guidance.

Glasgow Times: Students will form household groups in hallsStudents will form household groups in halls

Managing visitors:

Students should be discouraged from having large groups of visitors. 

However, it is acknowledged that visitors, including family members, provide a benefit to health and welfare. 

Therefore visitors should be allowed to attend properties safely, in line with guidance and complying with physical distancing. 

Visitors should be kept on record to support the Test and Protect approach in the event of an outbreak.

Signage and cleaning:

Signage should be displayed throughout the building where there is high footfall and traffic.

This should be relevant to the most up to date guidance, promoting good hygiene and physical distancing.

What more do I need to know?

Full details about guidance on college and university halls can be found on the Scottish Government website here