While the UK is now in the process of exiting its lockdown, like most countries the situation is still evolving, and officials are modifying their guidelines week-by-week. At roughly 335 times the size of Singapore, the UK’s a large country, and the Covid-19 situation is evolving differently on the ground in different regions and cities.
Will UK Universities be in-person or online later this year?
Obviously Covid-19 has forced many things to change, but despite the disruption the UK’s schools remain open for business, and are still strongly encouraging prospective students to apply. There’s been some rumours to the contrary, but most universities are preparing to welcome new students in autumn, while only a small number of universities are planning for purely online classes.
Onsite Measures for In-Person Classes
Most UK schools are planning a blend of face-to-face classes plus online tools, and obviously there will be adjustments, but schools are generally trying to ensure as “normal” an experience for international students as possible – even if some aspects of the academic calendar need to be taken totally online (i.e. “freshers week”).
In general, the government is mandating greatly increased, professional healthcare-level hygiene protocols in UK schools. They’re also making physical changes to the layout in schools (e.g. a lecture hall that used to hold 500 will be set up for only 50). Where possible, they’re also staggering day-to-day academic timings to ensure not too many people are in one place, at one time.
3 Possible Scenarios
The UK’s currently looking at 3 possible scenarios as the situation evolves in the coming months:
• If the situation improves, the current protocols (e.g. staggered class timings, smaller lecture sizes, etc.) will remain in place, but most classes will be held in-person
• If the situation doesn’t deteriorate demonstrably, but social distancing is still required, then most or all lectures may be shifted online but smaller, in-person group tuition may still proceed
• If the situation worsens, then all teaching will be done exclusively online
How is the UK supporting International Students?
The UK is going to considerable lengths to prioritise student-welfare in general through its NHS, and specifically (for international students), with several targeted measures including:
Counselling Services & Peer Support
Every UK university has “pastoral services” on campus providing counselling, advice, etc., as well as very active student unions, which run workshops, meet-ups, etc., to help students cope with stress, or other challenges.
Information & Updates
Many universities have dedicated, 24/7 helplines for students, and some universities are even providing fact-checked news updates, to their students to ensure people have accurate, real-time news about Covid-19.
The UK’s NHS is completely free-of-charge for everyone, including enrolled international students. Once you’ve paid your immigration health surcharge as part of your immigration procedures before going to the UK, you’re 100% entitled to full coverage.
Every UK university has a student “hardship fund” for students adversely affected, directly or indirectly by Covid-19. Nationwide, this includes more than £20,000,000 earmarked by schools for direct mental and physical help to students, as well as things like tech support – for instance if enrolled students can’t afford the necessary devices for online classes.
Additional Scholarships & Bursaries
Beyond that, individual schools also offer various bursaries and scholarships, some of which you may qualify for and which can be found on individual school’s scholarship pages online. To find out what you might qualify for at a national (UK) level, you can check the special scholarship page on StudyUK’s website. All you need to do is input where you’re from, and what you’re studying, and it will list what pools of funding you may be eligible for.
Help for students currently stuck in the UK
If you’re reading this from the comfort of your own home in Singapore, this won’t directly apply to you, but if you’re considering the UK it’s also worth seeing what the UK’s doing now for international students who are currently stuck in the UK, through no fault of their own due to Covid-19.
Many schools have on-campus food banks for students struggling to afford food at the moment, while others are continuing to offer up to 3 free meals per day for international students stuck in the UK, as well as grocery deliveries for students who have to self-isolate. Some schools are even sending student’s belongings home for them, if they are struggling to get their personal possessions repatriated.
What if you’re already planning to come to the UK later this year?
From 8 June 2020, any international student coming into the UK will be subject to self-isolation for 14 days, and upon arrival in the UK international students must travel directly to where they’re staying, to self-isolate. To help ease the situation, the government is working with individual universities to ensure the necessary requirements are in-place to facilitate that (eg. self-isolating students will have their own en suite bathroom, so they don’t need to share with others while isolating).
Are You Considering Deferring?
If you’re considering deferring this year, while it’s not a guarantee, something to think about if you’re going for a highly selective university is that you may find yourself in a smaller pool of candidates. Again, not a guarantee, but it may help.
While we don’t have them here in Singapore, you’ve probably heard about “Social Bubbles”. They’re a big, conceptual part of the UK’s general strategy to keep people safe. Specifically for international students attending classes in-person, this may mean you’ll be living with other classmates in your faculty, to insure students can have a Covid bubble as needed to safely facilitate necessary person-to-person situations, like study groups or attending classes.
Are Student Visas Delayed by Covid-19?
Obviously the admissions process looks different this year. As of now, the standard processing time for UK student visas are 15 working days. You’ll only be able to apply for the Tier 4 visa after you have received your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies, or “CAS letter”, from your university. If you’ve opted to start your UK course online in Singapore, you will only be required to submit and lodge your application when you fly into the UK.
Is the UK’s Post-graduate Work Visa Still Available?
From the summer of 2021, international students who have a valid Tier 4 visa, and have completed an undergrad degree (this includes students who’ve already started their courses), still qualify. This even includes international students who’ve had to do some of their studies overseas (due to Covid-19). Successful applicants are then able to stay in the UK and look for work for up to 2 years, and once you find a job, you can then switch to a skilled work visa.
Planning Ahead / Getting More Information
If you know which institution you want to attend, contact their admissions team and stay in touch, as every institution will have their own evolving policy for the autumn term.
Another good resource for ongoing developments in the UK is Study UK, which includes updates, answers to FAQs (eg. what happens if I can’t take my exams?), and links to other useful sites like UCAS, etc.
To get a real look at what’s happening in the lives of international students right now in the UK, you can also check out #wearetogether and #studyukbritish, which have a host of stories about how students are coping, socialising and even volunteering.