SCOTLAND'S leading lecturers’ union has demanded that staff and students wear face-covering when indoors at all times and in all places "in the interests of safety" - as students prepare for a return to campuses.

The move from the The University and College Union (UCU) came as the Scottish Government announced that secondary school pupils will have to wear face coverings in corridors, communal areas and school buses from next Monday.

Education Secretary John Swinney said the new rules would apply to all pupils aged over 12.

He said the guidance had been updated based on new advice from the World Health Organization (WHO).

There will be no requirement to wear face coverings in classrooms where distancing measures are in place.

But the UCU - the trade union representing academic and professional support staff in Scotland’s universities - said that staff and students should be wearing face coverings at all time indoors on university premises.

It said every possible safety precaution must be in place before the academic year begins next month.

UCU has already urged universities to provide as much learning, teaching and student support as possible via virtual and online means to keep the need for physical interaction on university campuses to an absolute minimum.

Now the union has written to education secretary John Swinney to urge him to make face coverings mandatory.

UCU’s Scotland official, Mary Senior, said: "With students and staff due to arrive on university campuses across Scotland’s towns and cities in the next few weeks, it’s vital that higher education is delivered as safely as possible.

"We expect to see mainly virtual learning, remote lectures and tutorials, but where universities are demanding staff and students work on campus, face coverings should be worn by those who are able to wear them.

"It’s really important that students can begin their studies. However, we have to ensure that our universities do not become Covid hotspots, and that the limited activity that may be taking place on campus is done safely. That’s why we are urging the Scottish Government to make face coverings a requirement on campus."

Devi Sridhar — one of Nicola Sturgeon’s key pandemic advisers — said earlier this month that students should wear face masks in class in a move she believes will help fight the spread of germs when universities go back in September.

Scotland’s universities face a potential £500m funding gap amid fears the number of fee-paying students from abroad will plummet.

Students and staff at Inverness College are already being "strongly recommended" to wear face coverings in classrooms to help reduce the risk of transmitting coronavirus.

With a limited number of new and returning students due to be on campus this autumn, the college has issued guidance on what they can expect.

It states: "To help protect others and reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 in our communities, face coverings should be worn on entering our buildings and while moving around our campuses, in our library and our learning resource centre, unless you are exempt or have a reasonable explanation for not wearing one."

Students are also asked to wear plain face coverings without wording to avoid causing any offence.

In their letter to Mr Swinney, the UCU say: "Given the increasing calls from the World Health Organisation for use of face coverings, we believe that in the interests of safety, minimising the risk of spreading the virus, and for consistent and clear messaging, everyone that is able, should be required to wear a face covering when indoors on university premises. We are urging you to update the Scottish Government’s directions on this issue..."

And they said that they "strongly believe" that given the risks associated with having large numbers of students and staff from all parts of Scotland, the UK and the world, travelling to study in Scotland’s university campuses, as much education as possible should be delivered via virtual means for the immediate future.

Universities Scotland was approached for comment.