A unified approach to testing students for coronavirus ahead of their return to universities after Christmas must be agreed across the UK, the Liberal Democrats have urged.

In a joint letter to the Scottish, Welsh, English and Northern Irish governments, the party called for plans to be confirmed before students travel home next month.

It comes after the Scottish Government announced a package of measures for students, designed to mitigate risks when travelling home for the festive period. 

Students will be offered two LFD (lateral flow device) tests, spaced three days apart which are bookable through their college or university.

And those receiving two negative results will be encouraged to safely return home as soon as is practical after the second result.

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However, if either of the lateral flow tests returns a positive result, the student will be asked to self-isolate and undertake a confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test through the usual NHS Test & Protect channels.

NUS Scotland president Matt Crilly said: “The introduction of mass testing for students and staggered departure dates are warmly welcome and will be a relief to many students and families across Scotland allowing students to return home safely this winter.

“But we now have our part to play and so I’d strongly encourage any student moving household over the holidays to plan ahead and get tested if you can.”

But the Lib Dems are now demanding ministers agree a plan for how to facilitate their return, amid fears that there could be another spike in cases among students in January.

Party leader Sir Ed Davey said the conditions students faced in September were "unsafe and unfair."

He said: “Many spent weeks in isolation without enough support and some campuses took the unbelievable decision to put fences around student accommodation.

“The UK Government and the devolved administrations must reach common agreement on universal testing arrangements."

Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead told parliament on Wednesday that the Scottish Government plans to learn from what happened when students arrived at university for the start of the academic year.

Several outbreaks of coronavirus were reported in university halls of residence after young people arrived from across Scotland, the UK and farther afield.

While Mr Lochhead said infection rates among students have “substantially reduced”, he added it is clear “the return after the new year will not be normal”.

He pledged: “We will work with the sector to offer as much clarity for students and staff as we can in the coming weeks.”

“Every student should have access to testing before they return for the new term.”