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UK still most promising, safe study destination amid Covid-19

National

July 6, 2020

Over a billion students worldwide are unable to go to school or university due to measures to stop the spread of Covid-19. The pandemic has a huge impact over global education and particularly upon international student mobility.

All major and key study destination countries such as United States, Canada, Australia and United Kingdom are trying to strategise their policies to open up their education sector as soon as possible. They are, however, confronted with several issues which include health and safety, social distancing in classroom and space, travel restrictions still in place and above all issuance of student visas to enable students to arrive in time for fall-2020. Therefore, huge uncertainty and confusion is prevailing among international students, including students from Pakistan when deciding their study destination starting in Fall-2020 and beyond.

Meanwhile, the Cambridge International Education (CIE) allowed and made a bold decision to help its students worldwide ensuring that they do not lose their academic year. They announced a progression and assessment policy which has been implemented for students under the CIE education system (IGCSE 'O' and A levels). Through this scheme, students shall be graded on their past performance, grades and assignments submitted pre and post Covid-19 period through their respective institutions. This will allow them to continue with their UCAS / undergraduate studies in the United Kingdom or elsewhere based on their results that will be announced according to schedule as always.

More than half a million international students seek higher education opportunities every year in the UK, and as such the UK university sector has been working towards finding different ways to facilitate international students so that they can study in the United Kingdom without losing their academic year. While UK was severely hit with the pandemic with almost more than 43,000 deaths and above 300,000 confirmed infected cases so far. The government lockdown policy and extensive implementation of social distancing rules helped the country to gradually come out of the crises. The Prime Minister decided to set up 5 Alert Levels starting from Level Red or 5 lockdown begins risk of health care services being overwhelmed, Level 4, Social distancing continues, Level 3, gradual relaxation of restrictions, Level 2, transmission is low, minimal social distancing enhanced Level 1 or Green, routine international monitoring, Covid-19 no longer exist in UK.

The alert level in UK was downgraded on 19th June, 2020, from level 4 to 3 and a further downgrading is expected which will bring more good and positive news and perhaps answers to all other questions related to international students etc. The UK universities higher education sector particularly the Ministry of State Universities have been closely monitoring the situation and have been advising the universities to take necessary measures, and develop a comprehensive strategy to resume education activity. The government has advised them to adhere closely to the most up-to-date scientific advice towards public health ensuring that student well-being remains the priority at the heart of these discussions.

The UK universities during the Covid-19 period kept on providing guidance and advice for all students planning to start their courses in September through their websites.

They kept the prospective students engaged through regular webinars, zoom meetings and podcasts bringing them the updates and guidance towards the admission processes relaxation in entry requirements, extension in dates, scholarship and fee discounts etc. Their representatives across their global network were also in the loop so as to provide assistance to prospective students in their respective countries.

A range of options were made available to students to help them commence their courses with the most suitable and appropriate mode keeping their health and well-being on priority. A huge number of Pakistani students travel to UK every year and the closure of university sector due to Covid-19 raised a number of issues for Pakistani students and their parents where they needed answers to a number of questions in the process of their decision-making to study in the UK.

The common ones being 1) Can I commence my studies in Sep/Fall 2020 in the UK? 2) What will be the mode of teaching if I do so? 3) Will I start with blended / hybrid learning from my home country? 4) If so, when can I begin face to face learning? 5) Will the course start dates be extended this year? 6) Since IELTS is currently suspended in Pakistan; can I do an alternative test? 7) How soon can I receive my confirmation of acceptance for studies? 8) When would IOM start its operational in Pakistan? 9) When would the visa access centres open in Pakistan? 10) If I have opted for blended mode, and my visa is processed sooner than November; can I still arrive in the UK and continue my blended option till face to face learning begins?

Most of these questions were answered by the university staff and international teams from time to time alongside their representatives and regional offices in Pakistan.

To reaffirm, the stance of the universities and their efforts to engage with students particularly international students; the Minister for State for Universities along with Ministers from Department of International Trade, Economy, Education and Further Education from England (UK), Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland issued a detailed letter addressed to international students clearly indicating what is happening and how determined they are keen to welcome international students for the autumn 2020/2021 intake.

This letter includes comprehensive information and facilities that will be extended to international students despite of Covid-19 crisis that such as the new graduate route entry allowing international students to work in the UK for any skill level for two years after graduation.

They emphasised that despite of Covid-19 disruptions they will ensure that the existing processes for international students, admissions and visas can be completed according to the schedule and in good time for them to commence their programme in UK. They were all optimistic and positive that things will improve and return to normal and the students will be able to get the unique learning experience and international exposure they expect from UK no matter which mode they commence their courses in September 2020. They stressed about the high quality of UK degrees and its value in the international market in whatever form they take, viz delivered in person or that has an element of online teaching/ learning.

The most important thing to consider was the health and well-being of students and the letter clearly reassured the students and parents that this was the priority of the government and the university sector which shall be ensured before the commencement of the Fall-2020 intake.

Considering the above facts and the information provided, United Kingdom is clearly a study destination worth considering when we review the situation and the current disruptions in the education sector worldwide. My advice to Pakistani students; therefore, is to keep themselves engaged with their respective universities and education counsellors and I'm hopeful that things will further improve and you are all able to commence and resume your studies in the United Kingdom this Fall-2020 without having to lose any time in your academic calendar.­