Earlier in September 2020, UK universities announced their plans and precautions for the current semester in the light of COVID-19. Since then, campuses have reopened for the academic year, functioning under strict guidelines from the Department of Education. Additionally, the UK government has created a points-based Student Route for visa applications, and together, these new guidelines aim at restoring higher education to its former glory in a COVID secure way.
In other words, universities are back in business — and here’s all you need to know about the new guidelines for higher education in the UK.
Guidelines on campus:
The Department of Education has laid down the following recommendations to keep campuses safe so that students may return to their campus accommodation and classes:
Compliance with government regulations for public gatherings - The UK government has put into a place a six-person limit, including children of any age, for friends and family gatherings. It also recommends that people meet outdoors and maintain a two-meter distance. The same regulations apply to campuses as well.
A community approach that aims at isolating any outbreaks within the campus - Universities in the UK are taking on COVID-19 within their walls. Students displaying symptoms are requested to ‘self-isolate’ in campus accommodation, along with other residents of the same building. The aim is to contain the virus and prevent it from spreading outside the university.
Disciplinary action against students who do not comply with safety regulations - The Department of Education encourages universities to create spaces where students can safely mingle and to lay down disciplinary measures for students who do not follow safety regulations in these spaces and elsewhere on campus.
Limited face-to-face teaching - Higher education in England now follows a four-tier system for outbreaks with regard to teaching. Face-to-face classes will be curtailed at tier 2 of an outbreak, only essential face-to-face teaching at tier 3, and if a university reaches tier 4, all classes will be moved online once again.
Guidelines for student visas:
The UK government has also tabled a new system for student visa applications that caters to all international students equally. The points-based Student Route came into effect on 5 October 2020 and its highlights are:
International students will require 70 points to qualify for a visa - Students can gain the required points if they have an offer from a UK-based university, have strong spoken English skills, and can finance their education.
The Student Route streamlines the application process for students and sponsors - Applicants can now submit their visa application six months before the start of their course as opposed to the previous three-month window and do not have to resubmit proof of academic qualifications. The route also allows for financial flexibility, so that sponsors can adapt to the new system.
There is no limit on the number of issued visas through the Student Route - Initially, the Student Route was meant to be launched in 2021, but the UK is eager for international students to return to their campuses. Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, Kevin Foster said that launching the student route early shows that the UK wants the best and the brightest students. To this effect, there is no limit on the number of visas issued to international students.
It includes greater post-study work benefits for international students - The Student Route will go hand-in-hand with an additional Graduate Route that will be launched in 2021. This will allow international students who have completed a degree with a track record of compliance to work in the UK at any skill level for a period of two-three years post graduation.
Universities in the UK are ready to have a productive year, despite COVID-19 wreaking havoc for far longer than most of us expected. The education sector has been changed irrevocably by the outbreak of the pandemic but the UK believes it is time to return to the classroom with stringent precautions and a renewed passion for learning.