SCOTTISH University staff have been "coerced" into going back to campus over fears that International students would turn away from institutions otherwise.

The claims were made by Mary Senior, University and College Union (UCU)'S Scotland official during a meeting of the Scottish Affairs Committee today.

Ms Senior told MPs that risk assessments at some institutions had been carried out for individual locations, but not necessarily for the number of students, or the type of activity, they would be doing within those areas.

She added that staff have been left anxious and fearful that their workplaces are unsafe.

She said:" The versions [of the guidance] that we saw at the end of August had the fact that if you could work remotely and you could do the activity that should be the case.

"Because that was the case for the rest of the economy in Scotland we really welcomed that, but then it changed when it was published, it gave universities the scope to force people back onto campus when they didn't feel safe.

"That's the bottom line."

She said members at many Scots universities were in this situation, but in particular Edinburgh, St Andrew's, Strathclyde and Dundee , and described the four institutions as "particular hotspots where staff feel frightened and anxious, and have been asked to be on campus."

Ms Senior explained: "They're not feeling safe and, and in some places there is a concern that they have risk-assessed a building or a room, but they haven't risk assessed an activity, and the risk assessments haven't factored in the margins of people that are going to be moving around."

The union official added that in some cases there have been"understanding line managers" who have allowed staff "flexibility" but explained: "In some places understanding line managers have been able to work flexibly around that.

"You're going to get better experience where people are happy to do what they're doing.

"If people are fearful delivering a tutorial or lecture, I don't think it's going to be ideal. That's recognised, it's just that there is not that flexibility across the piece."

SNP MP Mhairi Black asked Ms Senior, and fellow committee attendee Matt Crilly of the National Union of Students, why universities were asking staff to return to campus if they were not comfortable.

The MP said:" Have there been instances where... universities are pushing for that, for people to come back in physically to the university, when they're not comfortable? And if so, why?

"What benefit is it of the university to have more bodies piling in?"

Ms Senior replied: "Our members in a number of institutions feel they're being coerced to come back and they're unhappy. We've raised those with the employer particularly at the University of Edinburgh and University of St Andrews."

Mr Crilly said the problem related to the reliance on international student fees, EXPLAINING: " A lot of this comes back to the structure and funding problems in our education.

"Institutions are relying on international student fees. We started this conversation by talking about the fear that international students aren't arriving.

"Institutions felt that they had to deliver in-person teaching, and make students basically come back and encourage students to come back to make sure that international students arrived, that fee-paying students arrived so that that income wasn't lost.

"That's how many students feel right now.

" They feel like that's been the case and in some cases their institution didn't really communicate perhaps precisely what their education would look like because there was a desire to get people back and to make sure, particularly that fee-paying students arrived."

Mr Crilly said earlier that Scotland's universities had become "increasingly reliant on international fees" and added: "Some international students are paying £20,000 a year to study at our institutions and the pandemic has shown that this model is vulnerable."