Universities Scotland has claimed the restrictions imposed on students to not leave home or socialise in hospitality or with friends under the threat of expulsion from university was a “request, not a ban”.
Director of the representative group for all Scottish universities, Alastair Sim, said the measures were “a request” and one understood to be a “big ask” which required more from students “than is currently being asked of the rest of the general public”.
Students were told last week by Universities Scotland in a move backed by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that they would face disciplinary action and potentially police intervention if they were found to be socialising outside of their university households.
Guidance was issued by the universities stating that students could not socialise with other students outwith their household, nor go to pubs, restaurants or cafes and were issued a general ‘stay at home’ message.
Students would be faced with a yellow/red card system of enforcement including potential expulsion if found to be breaching the rules, with Universities Scotland stating: “breaches will not be tolerated”.
However, those with jobs in the hospitality and retail sectors were told they would be expected to work in the same venues they were unable to socialise in.
On Sunday, the final day of the temporary restrictions following criticism and confusion among students and their families about whether they were able to return home during the student lockdowns, Mr Sim said the measures were imposed because “it could be helpful” in tackling rising Covid-19 cases.
He said: “This weekend, we asked all students not to go out to pubs, restaurants and cafes. It was a request, not a ban. It was never a ban.
"But we know it was a big ask; one that asked more from students, for the course of one weekend, than is currently being asked of the rest of the general public. It was an appeal to a diverse student body that we know is caring, responsible and socially-minded.
“It was not something we liked doing but we judged that it could be helpful in the fight against the spread of the virus, at this particular point in time. The number of positive tests for coronavirus has been rising steeply in the general population and we have seen several outbreaks linked to student accommodation over recent days.
“We saw the timing of this weekend as important. An opportunity to break the chain of transmission. In this first weekend of new laws on the mixing of households, we wanted to urge extra caution.
"We wanted to learn from the experience of the first universities to start back, where house parties and mixing across household groups by a minority of students in the first couple of nights of welcome weeks, gave rise to the first transmission, which rose quickly from there.
“We did move quickly, and we’ve learned lessons there too, but we felt pace was important, ahead of this weekend, given the speed at which the virus moves.”
Mr Sim repeated the words of Nicola Sturgeon who said on Friday that students were “not to blame” for rising cases of Covid-19.
He said: “Students are not to blame. Student parties have been reported in the media, but we know from the experience on site at universities across Scotland, that students are showing very high rates of compliance with the rules and guidelines already in place.
"Those who needed to quarantine on arrival, did so, and those who need to self-isolate are doing so. They are mindful of the impact the virus can have on the vulnerable.”