THE SCOTTISH Government does not yet know whether all university students will be allowed to return to campuses in January – with learners set for an anxious wait before being told if they are “packing up their things for good” before Christmas. 

The Scottish Government has drawn up a plan to allow all students who want to return home for the festive break to do so – with a staggered end to the term and asymptomatic testing for all learnings to be put in place. 

But Universities Minister Richard Lochhead told Holyrood’s Education Committee that no decision has been taken by the Scottish Government yet as to whether all students will return to campuses after the Christmas break. 

Mr Lochhead has been accused of being “unprepared” for the inevitable and having “no plan to avoid the same mistakes” that took place when students returned in September. 

Matt Crilly, president of NUS Scotland, has also called for “a clear strategy for January return”, adding the organisation will “continue to call for online learning to be the default position where possible”. 

He added: “Students deserve better than another term of uncertainty.” 

Despite testing set to be rolled out for students returning home for Christmas, reports suggest that young people are already leaving campuses without being tested. 

This led Nicola Sturgeon to “make a particular request to students”. 

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The First Minister said she “can understand that some of you might be tempted to return home immediately”, but she warned “please do not do that”. 

Ms Sturgeon added: “For the moment, please stay in your current accommodation.” 

Mr Lochhead earlier told MSPs that a “staggered return is one of the options” being considered for January, adding that the Scottish Government is “looking at various options”. But he warned that it will be “a week or two” before a plan for the new term is made public. 

Labour MSP Daniel Johnson warned Mr Lochhead that “the end of term for some students is less than 10 days away” – adding that without a plan, some may not know whether they are “picking up their things for good or not” when they return home for Christmas. 

Mr Johnson asked whether home learning could be provided for students who “do not require labs or other physical resources”. 

The minister confirmed that “minds are turning to after new year and what that might look like” but confirmed no decision has been made as to whether all students will return to campuses. 

Mr Johnson said: “It is completely unacceptable that days from the end of term, not only is the Higher Education Minister unable to tell students ‘how’ they will return, he can’t tell them ‘if’ they will return. 

“The minister should have been planning for this since the early autumn, yet it is mid-November and he is clearly continuing to make it up as it goes along.” 

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has also called on Mr Lochhead to draw up a comprehensive plan – insisting the term dates “have not snuck up on the government”.

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He added: “There is no reasonable explanation for them being unprepared for this mass movement at this stage

“The Scottish Government must urgently offer students a considered and comprehensive plan. They need clarity about how their teaching will be conducted and will have basic questions about how much they need to take home.” 

Mr Lochhead also confirmed travel restrictions that come into force tomorrow will not act as a barrier to students returning. 

He added: “We will look at the role of testing, we will look at how they arrive, when they arrive. 

“I cannot exactly predict what January will be like.” 

At the First Minister’s daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon stressed that a plan for students returning in January will be drawn up “in the very near future”, 

Umbrella organisation, Universities Scotland, has urged students to follow the advice for them to remain in accommodation until the end of term. 

A spokeswoman added: “We appreciate that some students will be anxious about what this latest development means for them and whether it affects their ability to return home after the restrictions come into force. 

“We’d encourage those people to seek advice and support from their institution and to be assured that universities are working hard to make asymptomatic tests available to students in just a couple of weeks’ time so that they can move household with much greater peace of mind that they are not carrying the virus.” 

Universities Scotland has stressed that “continued access” to teaching, including “some element of in-person learning” should remain a priority after the Christmas break, adding that “there is no evidence of any transmission of Covid-19 in university teaching settings”.