UNIVERSITY students will be taught in groups of less than 30 to stall any potential outbreaks of Covid-19 – but overseas learners will not be tested on arrival in Scotland

Overseas students breaking quarantine rules can expect the “full weight of the disciplinary procedures”, officials have warned. 

The Scottish Government has published its updated guidance ahead of the new term at universities – but has stressed that the document “does not amount to legal advice”. 

But union bosses have warned over “heavy-handed threats” to students who are caught breaking Covid-19 guidelines.  

Willie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, has been left "bewildered" by the refusal to insist overseas arrivals are not tested for Covid-19. 

Students will be taught through blended learning – a mix of on-campus and at home teaching, with the guidance indicated that staff and students will spent time on campus, “albeit not in the numbers or a frequently as before the virus”. 

The guidance adds: “The aim should be to keep group numbers for face to face teaching at a minimum, and generally less than 30. 

“Group numbers of up to 50 students may be considered in some circumstances, but only where supported by a risk assessment, and with the provision of all other mitigations including two-metre physical distancing, face coverings in circumstances where the use of face coverings is recommended, environmental hygiene and adequate ventilation.” 

Students and university staff will be advised to wear face coverings “indoors wherever two-metre distance cannot be guaranteed”, but the guidance adds that “face coverings should not generally be required when students are seated in classrooms or other learning and teaching environments”. 

READ MORE: Union bosses warn universities could become 'Covid hotspots' without improved safety

Face coverings should also be used on dedicated college and university transport and in student accommodation indoor communal areas such as toilets, common rooms and laundry rooms. 

Universities have been told to give overseas students “clear and detailed information” on rules and guidance they must follow. 

The guidance adds: “Colleges and universities must take active steps to ensure that quarantine arrangements are complied with. 

“If failure to quarantine has created a risk of a localised outbreak, colleges or universities should take advice from their NHS Health Protection Team.

“We expect non-compliance to be treated as a serious breach in terms of disciplinary procedures. Sanctions will be determined on a case by case basis but it must be clear that they include the full weight of the disciplinary procedures.” 

Universities Minister Richard Lochhead said: “Colleges and universities have been working extremely hard to ensure the safest possible environment for students and staff returning. 

“Studying in Scotland is special no matter where you come from and, while this is an exciting time of year for new and returning students, it is not a resumption of normal life on campus. 

“Remote learning will significantly reduce the number of people on campus at any one time, while everyone on campus or in student accommodation must follow the rules around quarantine, self-isolation, physical distancing and using face coverings.” 

He added: “This guidance strengthens some of these issues and institutions must make students and staff aware of Scottish law and public health advice to keep themselves and others safe. For those people who need to quarantine on arrival, or self-isolate with Covid-19 symptoms, institutions will have a range of practical support in place. 

“While we will keep the guidance under review, we believe this strikes the right balance of allowing young people to get on with their lives in a manner that is as safe as it can be for students, staff and society. I have no doubt that students will want to act responsibly and will follow the rules that we are asking them to observe.” 

Professor Gerry McCormac, convener of Universities Scotland, added: “Universities are looking forward to welcoming students back for the start of a new academic year. 

READ MORE: More than 100 Scottish school pupils have tested positive for Covid-19

“We have been working for months to plan a safe return that will support high quality learning and offer a rounded student experience while ensuring the safety of our students, staff and the wider community. It’s important that students have the opportunity to continue their studies; they’ve been through a lot and will benefit in many ways from a safe return to study.” 

Mary Senior, the University and College Union’s Scotland official, said: “Remote and online learning needs to be the default position for all universities, on the understanding that this can pivot quickly to a return to face-to-face learning when it is safe to do so.  

"Important measures, such as two metres physical distancing, face coverings and additional hygiene measures will all be vital over the coming weeks and months.  

“It is hard to understand why the guidance countenances universities teaching groups of up to 50 students at a time, when in other guidance the Scottish government recommend meeting no more than eight people inside or 15 outside socially.  In order for people to abide by guidance it needs to be seen to be consistent.   

“It is also disappointing to see threats of disciplinaries for staff and for students for breaches of any of the Covid-19 guidelines. The rules need to be adhered to, but a heavy handed threats should not be meted out to students and staff at a time which is uncertain and worrying for many.”  

The Scottish Lib Dems had called for routine testing to be set up for the thousands of overseas students arriving in Scotland for their studies. 

The party's leader, Willie Rennie, said: "I'm bewildered by the government's decision not to test international students.  

"Students from across the world are flocking to Scotland's universities ahead of the new term and it's our duty to keep them and their peers safe when they get here." 

"The Scottish Government ignored me early calls for testing in care homes. I hope they don't come to regret this decision as well."