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Douglas Ross accuses Scottish Government of 'first class shambles' on student COVID guidance

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Douglas Ross accuses Scottish Government of 'first class shambles' on student COVID guidance

Students can return home from university accommodation on a long-term basis as long as they follow rules on self-isolating, according to new Scottish Government coronavirus guidance.

The Scottish Government released the updated document on Sunday evening following concerns students were being trapped in university accommodation, with the new guidance stating that students can visit parents if there is a "reasonable excuse" such as a family emergency.

But ministers faced criticism from opposition parties over the confusion.

The Scottish Conservatives will lodge an urgent question calling on the Scottish Government to announce all regulation changes in parliament, while leader Douglas Ross claimed “the SNP have slept in and caused a first class shambles.”

He said: “They were slow to prepare and they’ve been slow to react. Just like the blended learning and exam fiascos, they’ve sat back when they should have stepped up.

“There is no excuse for these delays when students as young as 17 are anxiously waiting to find out if they will be stuck in halls for up to six months.

“Clear and timely guidance would have helped enormously. Instead, the SNP Government have piled mistake on top of mistake.

“This ongoing debacle shows why decisions like this should be announced in parliament, not in press releases at 6pm. Proper scrutiny could have sorted this mess far earlier.”

Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science Richard Lochhead has written to college and university principals and student accommodation providers to set out the new guidance.

He 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.

“And, as the First Minister has made clear, we are strongly advising that students do not visit pubs and restaurants for the remainder of this weekend.

“I’d like to thank students for playing their role at this very difficult time when they are trying to benefit from further and higher education against a backdrop of a global pandemic.”

Professor 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. 

“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.”

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