THE SCOTTISH Government has been told to close university campuses and only teach face-to-face where studying “cannot be delivered online” amid a run-in over students returning home after being stranded in accommodation.

The plea comes after Nicola Sturgeon was accused of muddying the waters after updated guidance issued by the Scottish Government laid out exceptional circumstances where students could return home to self-isolate after a u-turn.

MSPs have demanded that more information is issued to clear up the situation.

A row erupted after students were told not to visit any hospitality setting over the weekend – including pubs and restaurants – while fears were raised over the mental health of young people after initially being told they cannot return home to self-isolate.

READ MORE: SNP accused of 'muddying the waters' with confusion over university rules

Nicola Sturgeon has praised the “vast majority” of university students who followed strict weekend rules including a pub ban.

Universities Scotland had initially indicated disciplinary action would be taken against students flouting rules including the possibility of being excluded from institutions – but the First Minister yesterday sided with the less aggressive stance now adopted by the umbrella organisation for universities, insisting the university-specific rules are "guidance".

Speaking at her daily Coronavirus briefing, the First Minister appealed to students considering leaving halls of residence and returning home permanently to “take a few more weeks before making such a long-term decision”.

Ms Sturgeon also warned those returning home for support in self-isolating from Covid-19 that their entire household including parents and siblings will also have to quarantine for 14 days after they arrive back home.

She said: “In general, our rule just now, for all of us is that we should not meet other households indoors. Wherever possible, students who are self-isolating should stay within their student accommodation. That is the best way to stop the virus spreading and the advice we give.

“We recognise that even with support in place, some students will feel that they need the help and care of a friend or family member – that might be relating to reasons of physical or mental health or finances. If that is the case, then you can move to another household to complete your self-isolation period.

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“I would caution that this is not a decision to be taken lightly. If you decided you absolutely have to move to your family home to self-isolate, you should avoid using public transport and crucially, the other members of your new household, that’s your mum, dad, brothers, sisters, of all ages will have to self-isolate for 14 days from the time you arrive home.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “We can’t afford to have the virus spread throughout the country so it’s important you think about the impact on returning home to self-isolate.

“Self-isolation is not easy in any circumstances and I know it can be especially difficult sometimes in student accommodation. Our default advice is that students should stay in their accommodation while self-isolating if at all possible.”

But Conservatives have claimed the new guidance “raises as many questions as answers” - with the party lodging a parliamentary question to demand further clarity, guidance and support for students.

The Tories claim the guidance is confusing around self-isolation rules for households when a student moves, when students will be able to return home, and what constitutes a “reasonable excuse”.

Universities Minister Richard Lochhead said yesterday that he “didn’t know” about Scottish Government modelling showing what would happen when students returned to universities.

Scottish Conservative education spokesman, Jamie Greene, said: “The guidance issued late on Sunday night was clearly another rushed, last-minute job and it looks like the fog hasn’t lifted. It has thrown up as many new questions as answers.

READ MORE: Teachers warn schools are no longer 'Covid safe' after cases soar

“The SNP have muddied the waters more. Families are still waiting for clarity on who needs to self-isolate if students return home from halls of residence. Students don’t know if they’ll be able to go home for reading weeks or at Christmas.”

He added: “A difficult situation has been compounded by SNP mistakes, u-turns and oversights. This could have been a bump in the road and instead it’s been a car crash.

“This is all evidence that the First Minister should be announcing new regulations in the Scottish Parliament where MSPs can challenge the flaws straight away. The lack of immediate scrutiny has clearly made this situation worse.”

The First Minister stressed that rules over households not mixing apply to the entire Scottish population, not just students – while warning that house parties that required police action at the weekend were people of all ages, not just learners.

The EIS teaching union’s University Lecturers’ Association has expressed its support for students caught up in the fiasco and reiterated its call for teaching to be delivered remotely wherever possible.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan, said: “The EIS believes it is wrong to blame students for the rise in Covid-19 infections within student accommodation and rejects the use of disciplinary sanctions against students. Recent general rises in Covid-19, in communities across the country, made these outbreaks entirely predictable.

“The EIS believes that academic staff should be working from home wherever possible and that campuses should be open only to students studying elements of their courses that cannot be delivered online – e.g. laboratory work.

“Where face-to face teaching is required, this should only be after consultations, with a view to reaching agreement with the affected staff and their representatives.”