Student views and experiences of a symptomatic COVID-19 testing at the University of Edinburgh

Alice Street, Mats Stage Baxter, Sarah Christison, Imogen Bevan, Linda Bauld

Research output: Working paper

Abstract / Description of output

In November 2020, the University of Edinburgh launched a mass testing programme to identify pre and asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 so as to minimise transmission when students travelled home for the winter break. This was part of a Scotland and UK wide initiative to detect and contain hidden infections in the highly mobile student population. The programme was also an opportunity to explore the future feasibility of mass testing as a strategy to enable UK universities to safely increase the volume of on-campus teaching and research.

This study included a short survey immediately following student participation in the testing process in December 2020 followed by in-depth interviews with a smaller cross-section of students in January 2021. The research explored student perceptions and experiences of the university’s testing programme and the ways in which their participation influenced their plans for travel and protective behaviours. Topics addressed included students’ motivation to participate in asymptomatic testing; challenges that students experienced in accessing or undertaking testing; trust in test results; and how test results influenced adherence to public health guidelines on travel, social distancing, and isolation. The research aimed to understand the value that students attribute to testing and the ways in which this value influences testing practices, with a view to informing and improving government and university testing strategies in the future.

This report begins by outlining the background context within which presymptomatic and asymptomatic testing programmes for students and LFDs were established. It then describes how the Semester 1 (pre-Christmas 2020) University of Edinburgh testing programme was established and what it involved. The methods for the study are then explained, followed by the results, including survey findings (closed and open-ended questions) and some early indications of the key themes emerging from follow-up interviews. Finally, we include a brief discussion of the results as well as conclusions and recommendations. We argue that students experience testing as a social process and that approaching testing programmes from this perspective can help to highlight and address barriers to take-up and improve communications regarding the uses and purposes of testing.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages35
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2021


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