UK academic year comes into focus with new visa guidance and updates on university services

UK academic year comes into focus with new visa guidance and updates on university services

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The Home Office has released a detailed package of updated visa information for international students, including an updated provision that online studies undertaken outside the UK may still be counted toward post-study work visa eligibility
  • Meanwhile, nearly all (97%) university-respondents to a recent survey have indicated that they will be providing in-person instruction for the semester beginning in September, along with comprehensive student support services

In guidance updated 16 June, the UK Home Office has set out detailed policy and process updates for international students.

This latest briefing contains a number of important updates for students commencing or continuing studies this year, and both for those already in the UK and those planning to travel later this year.

Of particular note is that the Home Office confirms that the new Graduate Route – the two-year post-study work visa – will launch as planned in summer 2021.

The Home Office confirms as well that students may count online studies undertaken outside the UK towards their post-study work eligibility: “Students will normally be expected to undertake their studies in the UK to be eligible for the Graduate route. However, if students are required to either continue their current studies or commence a new course by distance or blended learning due to COVID-19, they will still be eligible to switch into the Graduate route on a concessionary basis if they spent some time studying outside the UK.”

In order to qualify for this concession, students must enter the UK on or before 6 April 2021, and will be required to complete at least their final semester of studies in the country.

The updated guidance also recognises the need for more flexible visa processes for students impacted by COVID-19 travel restrictions, allowing that:

  • Students with expiring visas may apply for renewals from within the UK: “Students whose leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, who would otherwise be unable to extend in country, will be able to exceptionally apply for further leave within the UK. This includes students studying at providers who would otherwise be required to apply from their home country for further leave, such as students at non Higher Education Providers with a track record of compliance.”
  • The normal limit of 20 working hours per week during course sessions has been relaxed for students in a number of specified health care fields while “Tier 4 students with work rights whose sponsor suspends all study on their course as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak will be considered to be in vacation time and so will be permitted to work full-time during this period.”
  • Until 31 July, students engaged in short-term studies in UK may apply to switch to a Tier 4 visa for longer-term studies “on an exceptional basis”, with some restrictions and requirements in place.

Universities say they will be face-to-face

A new survey from Universities UK indicates that nearly all British institutions are planning to resume in-person instruction in September. Of the 92 universities that responded to the survey, 89 (or 97%) say that they will be providing in-person instruction during the fall semester. As Universities UK points out, the survey “includes responses from some institutions which already under normal circumstances provide a significant proportion of their teaching and learning online.”

The survey results also reveal that

  • Eight in ten institutions are planning to provide in-person sports and social activities during the semester
  • Nearly all universities intend to offer “the full range” of student support services, including mental health, career planning, and study skills sports. Most (95%) will deliver these services through a combination of in-person and online options, with the remaining 5% relying strictly on online delivery
  • Nine in ten respondents have already communicated their plans for fall with current and prospective students; the remainder intend to do so “imminently”

“Universities across the UK are well advanced in their planning to welcome students this autumn and ensure they can benefit from a high-quality, full and exciting university experience,” said Universities UK Chief Executive Alistair Jarvis.

“Although their first term will be different from previous years, most students can expect significant in-person teaching and a wide range of social activities and support services. Universities are committed to providing an engaging academic and social experience for all while ensuring the safety and welfare of the whole university community.”


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