Scotland gets an updated strategic framework out of restrictions, but little certainty for the sector

A day after England’s road map out of restrictions appeared, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled plans for Scotland.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

Back in May 2020, version one of this thing was called a “route map for moving out of lockdown”, but these days that sounds too much like “road map” so now it’s called an updated “Strategic Framework”.

For higher education, it’s all pretty vague. A staggered return of undergraduate students, with a small number of students returning to critical in-person learning, began in January.

It says here that when conditions allow the Scottish Government will look to “progressively broaden the scope” of those allowed to return, with priority given to the maintenance of workforce pipelines in critical sectors, such as health and social care and early learning and childcare.

In Parliament Sturgeon said that universities and colleges are able to bring back a small number of students – no more than 5% of the total – where face to face teaching is critical. That air-plucked figure doesn’t appear in the actual framework.

There will also be a focus on students whose attendance is time-sensitive and critical to the successful conclusion of their studies and cannot be delivered remotely or postponed.

What we don’t learn is what the specifics might be on courses or students, or what the “conditions” would have to be to cause the scope broadening.

In a section on the self-isolation, the public is reassured that there will be appropriate support for students self-isolating and in quarantine:

Universities Scotland has announced a Consistent Core of Care package which commits every institution to providing regular check-ins for self-isolating students, help with food and other groceries, cleaning supplies and internet access. Institutions will continue to provide support for students who choose or need to remain in their term-time accommodation.

As we’ve noted before, that consistency is only applicable if you happen to be a student in university-run halls of residence. A sort of inconsistent consistency, if you will.

There’s a round up of the government’s good news on measures taken to support students facing hardship – £5m in hardship funding in December, another £30 million in January, notice to leave periods for students residing in halls of residence and Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) and money for students to bridge the digital divide. There has also been extra help for universities and students’ unions on mental health.

But all in all, there’s not much certainty in here for students or for universities – which is likely why Scottish providers are starting to offer their own.

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