As 2021 begins with a national lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the higher education sector has set out a range of measures that ensure student welfare remains the priority

Here are some of the changes that have already been put in place by institutions and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), as well as what you can expect during the remainder of the 2020/21 academic year and beyond.

However, if you're a current student, it's still important to check with your own university to discover what its individual plans are going forwards.

A-level exams and university admissions

With secondary schools and colleges in England moving to remote learning until at least the February half-term, the prime minister Boris Johnson announced that A-level exams will be cancelled this summer.

The government is currently working with the exam regulator Ofqual to make alternative arrangements for how A-level grades will be awarded in the 2020/21 academic year.

On Wednesday 6 January, the education secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that a form of teacher assessment will be used to ensure that grades are awarded 'fairly and consistently'.

We'll provide further updates when they're available, with more details expected by the end of January..

For those looking to go to university in 2021/22, Friday 15 January was set as the application deadline for most courses, while all applications received after Wednesday 30 June will be entered into Clearing.

For further details on university admissions and any effects coronavirus will have on the process, visit UCAS.

University exams

The end of year exams for 2020/21 are likely to be held online. However, students lacking access to a computer, laptop or broadband connection would be given the chance to request that their assessment take place in person.

Durham University is one institution to confirm their plans with students typically being given a 24-hour window to complete an exam following release of the question paper.

Safety Net measures will be used to ensure that departments take into account all previous work completed during the degree should the mark be out of line with a student's overall performance.

Also, students who've experienced exceptional circumstances during the exam period won't be adversely affected, due to the Serious Adverse Circumstances system in operation at Durham.

Student safety and returning to campus

Universities in England had already decided to adopt a staggered approach to returning to campus for the new term (see the latest guidance at GOV.UK), but the lockdown has meant that teaching will now be conducted online until mid-February at the earliest.

Students who travelled home for Christmas are expected to study remotely at their current residence wherever possible, with in-person tuition only available for those studying hands-on courses such as medicine or veterinary science.

For those that are allowed onto university grounds, you'll need to take two COVID-19 tests or self-isolate for ten days.

University accommodation and student finance

With students unable to get part-time jobs in cafes and bars to help make up the difference between their student loan and rent, this has left many of them in a stressful situation.

If you're worried about your finances and paying rent while you're unable to return to student halls and houses, speak to your university in the first instance as you certainly won't be alone.

There may be the possibility of getting a rent refund - see MoneySavingExpert for details on where you stand on this as well as watching the video below.

As you try and adapt to this unprecedented situation, you can find general tips on saving money as a student, as well as overcoming student challenges during COVID-19.

Virtual open days and careers fairs

Following the outbreak of coronavirus back in March 2020, university open day events were cancelled for the rest of the academic year. However, you can still attend virtual open days at many universities and explore where you'd like to continue your education.

Also, careers fairs, which are usually planned in for the spring and autumn months, have been moved online too.

For details of the latest virtual student and graduate events, see Prospects open days and events.

International students

The borders are still open for both new and returning international students. However, the government has advised those from overseas to check with their university as to when face-to-face teaching is available and when they intent to arrive on campus.

International students will need to fill out a passenger locator form when arriving in the UK and self-isolate in their accommodation for ten days if arriving from countries that don't feature on the exemption (travel corridor) list.

Universities UK has developed a checklist for HE providers supporting students required to self-isolate.

This information is subject to change so always check with your institution before travelling to the UK.

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) has also provided a comprehensive coronavirus guide for international students.

Find out more

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