Coronavirus: Should I go to university this year?

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By Ian Westbrook
BBC News

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  • Coronavirus pandemic

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Results for A-level and vocational students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be published on Thursday.

Together with Scottish students, who received results last week, many will be hoping for the grades they need to secure a university place.

But how will universities operate in the new academic year?

Will universities be open as normal in September?

There are 137 universities in the UK, and 89 out of 92 of those

which replied to a Universities UK survey will provide some in-person teaching next term,

This will be part of a “blended approach” to teaching and learning, with many universities announcing that lectures will be given online.

You need to contact individual universities or check their websites to find out what they have decided.

Do I have to go?

You had to make two choices – a firm first-choice university and also a back-up choice. You must then decline any other offers. If you meet the offer conditions of the first choice, you are in – otherwise the back-up alternative comes into play.

Even then, you are not committed to going if you choose not to.

Places at specific universities can be cancelled online, and if you decide not to go to university at all, you must phone the ones holding you a place to ask for your application to be withdrawn.

None of this will leave you out of pocket.

Will universities charge full tuition fees?

The government says university students in England will still have to pay full tuition fees even if their courses are taught online in the autumn.

However, some students are unhappy about this.

One started a petition, demanding a refund for lost teaching, after face-to-face teaching ended in March. It gained more than 330,000 signatures, enough for a parliamentary debate.
The maximum UK university tuition fee is £9,250 a year, which is totally covered by a student loan, although international students may pay more.

Scottish and European Union students pay no tuition fees for attending a university in Scotland.

What about accommodation costs?

Accommodation costs can vary, but usually run into several thousand pounds.

Maintenance loans for living costs are means-tested, so you have to make up the difference.

Claire Sosienski-Smith, a National Union of Students (NUS) official, told the BBC: “We would recommend that students think carefully before signing any binding contracts or agreements for next year, especially in the case of rental contracts.”

Some students had their accommodation fees removed for the cancelled summer term, but others had to pay, even though they were unable to stay at university because of the lockdown.

Can I defer my place?

As of July, more than half a million university applications had been submitted for this September, a slight increase on last year.

The numbers of students in UK universities could be much lower than usual from September.

A survey by the University and College Union found that more than one in five students could defer going to university this year.

Universities and colleges take varied approaches to the issue.

Some will not allow deferred entry for subjects such as medicine, but will consider it for other courses. However, you need to check that the same course is being offered the following year.

You could also be asked your reasons for wanting to defer when your application is considered.

Will international students still come to the UK?

A study has suggested two-thirds of international students still intend to take up their offers abroad, including in the UK.

IDP Connect, which works in global marketing for students, surveyed nearly 6,900 students and found that 69% of them were not changing their plans.
However, prospective postgraduate students from East Asia largely prefer a face-to-face start in January to an online one in the autumn, according to a British Council study.

The survey of more than 15,000 students, carried out in April and May, also suggested UK universities are likely to have nearly 14,000 fewer new enrolments in 2020-21, compared to 2018-19. This would lead to a drop of £463m in spending on tuition and living expenses.

Is the government helping universities?

A plea from universities in England for a £2bn bailout from the government was rejected.

However, to help with cashflow, £2.6bn of tuition fee income and £100m of research funding will be brought forward.

The universities can also access the Treasury’s support for businesses disrupted by coronavirus, worth another £700m.

The number of new UK and EU students will be controlled by the government, which may add extra numbers in some cases. Half of any additional capacity would be given to people studying courses like nursing.

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