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University students and COVID-19 FAQ

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Answers to frequently asked questions from university students on how the coronavirus might impact higher education.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan:

The Government is doing all it can to keep staff and students at our universities safe during this unprecedented situation, while mitigating the impact on people’s education.

As Universities Minister, I understand that this is an extremely difficult time and I want to reassure you that we are putting students at the heart of all our work.

Over the last few weeks I have listened to and received lots of questions about the impact of Coronavirus and what this means for you.

Taking the most frequently asked questions, I have provided the latest information and answers that people want to know, including on exams, fees, accommodation, support and visas.

Universities are independent and unlike schools they are responsible for the decisions they take in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Action taken by one university might not be best for another. The Government will support the sector to do what is best for students up and down the country.

Teaching and exams

Will my university remain open?

Yes. While most buildings have closed and face to face education has ended in line with health advice, many universities and colleges have taken the decision to move to remote teaching.

This is an important way to help ensure the safety of staff and students. Students should still receive good quality teaching and support in whatever form it is delivered.

Will I be able to sit my finals and receive the grades and degree I deserve?

We are working with the sector to ensure universities are able to make all reasonable efforts for students to continue and complete their studies. This includes moving learning online.

The Office for Students (OfS), the higher education regulator in England, has published guidance on how universities can maintain the quality of courses and the credibility of qualifications during the pandemic.

As the situation develops, the Government wants to ensure students continue to leave university with qualifications that have real value, reflect their hard work and allow people to progress. We are working closely with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education to help to make sure this happens.

 

Fees and fee loans

Will my tuition fees be refunded due to the changes?

We are working with universities to make sure all reasonable efforts are being made to enable students to continue their studies to the best of their abilities. There are some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality distance and online learning being delivered by institutions across the UK, and the sector is already working hard to prepare learning materials for the summer and autumn terms.

Students ordinarily should not expect any fee refund if they are receiving adequate online learning and support.

However, the Government has made it clear that if institutions are unable to facilitate adequate online tuition then it would be unacceptable for students to be charged for any additional terms – effectively being charged twice.

What action can I take if I am not receiving adequate teaching?

Students should rightly continue to receive a good standard of education, and we understand this could be distressing for students if they do not feel their provider is taking measures to ensure this.

Students are entitled to make a complaint if they feel that their university has not taken sufficient steps to appropriately respond to this situation. In the first instance, students should speak to their university to see if they can resolve their complaint.

If this is not possible or if they are unhappy with the outcome, they can take their complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA). The OIA covers student complaints concerning higher education providers in England and Wales.

 

Accommodation

Should I stay in my university halls or accommodation?

If students are still living in university accommodation, they should stay there, avoid unnecessary travel and follow social distancing advice, in line with Government guidance to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Will I get a refund of my accommodation costs if I have returned home? 

The Government encourages universities and private hall providers to be fair and clear in their decisions about rent charges for this period. A number of large companies have waived rents for the summer term or released students early from their contracts, including Unite.

Private student accommodation providers who are facing difficulty during this time may be able to access the support packages announced by the Chancellor to protect businesses.

Students who are tenants with individual private landlords should discuss the possibility of an early release from their lease. As tenants, students are entitled to support if they are impacted by COVID-19, such as repayable rent reductions or postponements and assurances that eviction proceedings cannot begin against them for 3 months. As a result, no renter in private accommodation will be forced out of their home during this difficult time. (Students renting under licence, as applies in most halls, are ineligible for this support).

Students who return home or whose rent circumstances change will continue to receive maintenance loan payments.

What if my accommodation provider tells me to return home?

Accommodation providers should not instruct students to return home. Students should stay put where possible, though we appreciate that many will have already returned to be with their families at this difficult time.

If an accommodation provider did instruct a student to leave the property, the Government would encourage providers to consider appropriate reimbursements for students.

 

Maintenance loans

Will I still receive my maintenance payments?

Students will continue to receive payments of maintenance loans for the remainder of the current academic year.

Eligible students who need to undertake additional weeks of study on their course in the current academic year may qualify for additional long courses loan to help with their living costs. Further advice will be provided in due course.

 

Support

I’ve lost my part-time job. What support is available for me?

Students with a part time employment contract should speak to their employer about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been set up to help pay staff wages and keep people in employment. HMRC are working urgently to get the scheme up and running and we expect the first grants to be paid within weeks.

Maintenance loan payments will continue for the remainder of the current academic year.

If you are suffering particular hardship, many universities will already have hardship funds to support students most in need and you should contact your institution.

Can I still access mental health support at this time? 

Many students will be feeling uncertain and anxious and it is vital that they can still access the mental health support they need. The Government has told Vice-Chancellors to prioritise this and many universities are bolstering their existing mental health services and adapting them in the absence of face-to-face support.

The Department for Health has announced they will be giving leading mental health charities £5 million to expand support services during the coronavirus outbreak.

Students who are struggling with their mental health at this time can access online resources from Public Health England, along with online support from the NHS and mental health charity Mind.

 

Visas

I am an international student and my visa is about to expire. I cannot return home because of travel restrictions. What happens to my visa?

The Government is working to ensure existing rules and regulations are as flexible as possible under the current unprecedented circumstances.

Any student whose leave expired after the 24 January and who cannot leave the country because of travel restrictions or self-isolation will be able to extend their visa to 31 May 2020. This will be kept under regular review in case further extensions are needed. Individuals must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team to advise of their situation.

I am on a Tier 4 visa. Can I now study via distance learning?

Due to the current exceptional circumstances, the Home Office will not consider it a breach of visa or sponsor duties if Tier 4 students undertake distance learning in the UK.

This applies to existing Tier 4 students and those who have chosen to return overseas but wish to continue their current studies. Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship in these circumstances.

 

Volunteering

I am not medically trained, is there any way I could still volunteer to help?

Yes, even if you are not medically trained you can help to support the NHS at this time. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is organising volunteering on a national scale – please visit this link for more information.

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