While the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has undoubtedly been a huge blow to the higher education sector, it has provided an opportunity for universities to rally round and plan for the future
Here are some of the changes that have already been put in place by institutions, exam boards and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), as well as what you can expect as we move towards the 2020/21 academic year.
However, 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
Following the cancellation of A-level exams across the UK, the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed that formal grades will be given to students on A-level results day 2020 as planned. For most students this is Thursday 13 August 2020.
The grades will fairly reflect the work students have put in, with these based on:
- previous performance, including GCSEs and mock exams
- non-exam assessment such as coursework
- the grade they expected you to have achieved should exams have gone ahead.
Student safety on campus
An article by The Guardian on UK universities plan to create 'social bubbles' when campuses reopen (3 June 2020) explains how some universities plan to reduce the risk of coronavirus on campuses by having students live and study with those on the same course or in their year.
Staffordshire University and Brunel University are among the institutions discussing ways in which students will be able to access campus facilities while restricting the number of people they interact with when campuses reopen in September. Everybody would be expected to move around each site using a one-way system.
Blended learning and online classes
The Guardian article also mentions how students may be offered a 'blended' education, which utilises a combination of online lectures with smaller groups of face-to-face tutorials.
The University of Manchester has already announced it will be keeping lectures online in 2020/21 (Times Higher Education, 11 May 2020). This is applicable to the first semester and will be reviewed according to social distancing advice.
Despite this, students will still be able to return to campus in the autumn as the university is eager to ensure other face-to-face activities, including small group teaching and tutorials, are able to continue.
Following this news, Cambridge University revealed that all lectures will be held online until summer 2021 (BBC, 19 May 2020). However, they did admit that it may be possible to host smaller teaching sessions in person if it is safe to do so.
Optional term start dates
A survey by the University and College Union revealed how almost three-quarters of the 516 university applicants polled would favour a delayed 2020/21 start date if it meant more face-to-face teaching and a reduced number of online lectures.
Brunel University is one institution that has already said it will be introducing an optional January start date for students on certain larger undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, as well as all international students affected by COVID-19 travel restrictions and who aren't able to travel to the UK in September.
Virtual open days and careers fairs
UCAS announced it has postponed university open day events until 31 July 2020. However, whether you're looking to undertake an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, or even an apprenticeship, you can attend virtual open days at many universities from now until July and explore where you'd like to continue your education.
Also, careers fairs, which are usually planned in for the autumn and spring months, have largely been moved online too. For instance, the University of Southampton has announced its 'Connect with your Future' virtual careers fair exchange for 22 and 23 October 2020.
For details of the latest virtual student and graduate events, see Prospects open days and events.
Student health and wellbeing
Universities UK has revealed it has updated its strategic framework Stepchange as it calls on universities to prioritise students' mental health across every aspect of its policies, cultures, practices and courses.
The recommendations include:
- working closely with students and staff in developing mental health strategies and services
- ensuring accessible and appropriately resourced support for mental health and wellbeing for all students and all staff
- a commitment to assessments and coursework that stretches and tests learning, but without it imposing unnecessary stress.
The universities minister Michelle Donelan has set out measures such as flexible visa regulations to support international students as they contemplate studying in the UK under the current circumstances. See the GOV.UK press release on 5 June 2020.
The UK Council for International Student Affairs has also provided a comprehensive coronavirus guide for international students.
The end of year exams for the next academic year may 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.
Virtual freshers' week
Many universities, including Nottingham University, plan to replace their annual freshers' fairs with virtual freshers' weeks at the start of the 2020/21 year. This September and October, students can expect to meet each other online through these virtual events and sign up to extracurricular activities.
Find out more
- Consider your career and COVID-19.
- Read our 5 tips for studying at home.
- Explore ways to boost your employability through virtual work experience.
- Discover how best to manage student stress.