A "road map" will be needed to ensure students at all stages are not academically disadvantaged by the pandemic and can complete their courses, ministers have been told.

It comes after a specially created Scottish Government taskforce held its first meeting on Thursday to consider the challenges which colleges and universities face in delivering practical learning as a result of the current Covid-19 restrictions.

The taskforce comprises representatives from colleges, universities, students and unions.

Nicola Sturgeon announced last month that university and college teaching would be online for the vast majority until at least the end of February.

It means most will have to stay at home rather than take up term-time accommodation.

While pandemic-related issues impact on both further and higher education, colleges are particularly affected given the predominance of practical learning.

Shona Struthers, Chief Executive of Colleges Scotland, said: “We’re pleased the Task Force is focussed on supporting colleges to deliver qualifications at this acutely difficult time.

"There are only a few months before the academic year ends in July, and a lot to do in that time to reduce the impact on learning posed by ongoing restrictions.

“The national lockdown, announced on 4 January and now extended until the end of February, immediately changed the opportunities colleges have to support students to finish their courses.

"There has been an incredible effort from college staff to help their students right across the country already to support their students, and nationally we are determined that everything possible is done to help students achieve in this academic year."

HeraldScotland: Richard Lochhead, Further and Higher Education Minister.Richard Lochhead, Further and Higher Education Minister.

She added: “It is without doubt that there are some tough issues to solve. Colleges Scotland is confident however that we can mitigate a lot of the factors around course completion in the coming weeks by working closely with Scottish Government and others.

“Students can expect their own college to continue to communicate regularly with them about their individual course and arrangements for learning and assessment.”

Matt Crilly, NUS Scotland President, said: “Students and apprentices need a road map and it’s up to the Scottish Government to work with institutions, awarding bodies and unions to ensure students at all stages are not academically disadvantaged by the pandemic and are fully supported.

“Many students have been unable to complete their critical in person training. We want to ensure that the disruption caused is minimised and they can complete their studies safely and successfully."

Representative body Universities Scotland said institutions were committed to supporting the successful graduation of students. 

“For most students the digital provision put in place by universities will help them achieve this," a spokesman said.

"There are some courses, largely practical, where the Scottish Government will need to allow for the planned in-person return of a very limited numbers to complete their degrees.

"This will be done in a timely and safe way and in line with regulations, in keeping with universities’ approach since the start of the pandemic.

“Any student worried about completing their final year, or any other issue that is concerning them, should contact their university who will support them.”

Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead, who chaired first meeting, said: "Given the uncertainty around the course of the pandemic, many students are understandably worried about when they can get back to campus for learning they cannot do remotely. Universities and colleges are already working creatively and flexibly to support students to learn at home, and I thank them for their huge efforts.

“This task force agreed today to do everything possible to ensure students can complete their courses this academic year and beyond. We will explore urgently the practical solutions that could be implemented, quickly, to minimise the number of students who may be affected..

“This is a complex issue and as well as supporting as many college and university students to complete their courses on time we will also do everything we can to support those that may not be able to.”