Covid-19 and UK universities: international updates and FAQs
Last updated on Friday 5 Aug 2022 at 10:21am
The information on this page covers queries raised by our members and partners.
This page is broken down into three categories: international students and staff, student mobility, and transnational education. We will continue to review these sections as the situation develops.
Please note that we cannot provide formal guidance but we will disseminate government and public health information, signpost to external resources where available, and keep you updated with our work on these issues.
If you have any questions or concerns related to international activity which are not covered on this page, please contact email@example.com
Guidance can change quickly. Always refer to government guidance for the most up to date information.
International students and staff
Minister’s letter to international students - December 2021
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Skills, with responsibility for international students, Alex Burghart MP, has written to international students expressing thanks for their decision to study in the UK and their patience and resilience in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. The letter also lays out support and guidance regarding travelling to the UK, vaccine eligibility, vaccine certification, and visa concessions.
Students travelling abroad during Covid-19
When planning and preparing students for studying or working abroad over the next academic year, institutions should closely follow the FCDO travel advice for the destination country, and check the Covid-19 traffic light lists (red, amber and green) and relevant guidance.
Institutions should also look at the FCDO general guidance for people travelling abroad from the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic. Advice is changing frequently on travel, so these pages and travel lists should be consulted regularly.
Institutions should check the rules for the destination students are visiting or travelling through. In particular, check whether:
• the UK government advises against all but essential travel
• the country or territory students are travelling to, or may be travelling through, will allow people from the UK to enter
• travellers need to show proof of vaccination, need a negative Covid-19 test to enter, or need to quarantine when they arrive
Institutions and students also need to be aware of vaccination requirements of individual overseas institutions, which can be checked directly with the institution.
If students are expecting to, or are required to travel back to the UK during their time abroad, institutions should also bear in mind rules for entry back into the UK from destinations they are visiting, and Covid-19 testing and quarantining requirements.
To help students consider their own safety when living and travelling abroad, students should also be directed to consulting the general rules for keeping safe when travelling: Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer travel guidance for passengers. These include how to plan travel and checklists for travel.
Institutions need to adhere to travel advice from the FCDO when considering whether they are able to send students to a particular destination. Information and guidance on Covid-19 can be found on the Turing Scheme web pages.
At the present time Turing placements cannot take place in red list countries.
As well as the flexibility provided by the Turing Scheme for placements to be delayed and destinations changed in order to allow activities to go ahead, provided they still deliver the outcomes set out in your successful bids, additional financial support for projects taking place during the 2021-22 academic year is provided.
This extra support will provide for disadvantaged participants who incur additional costs as a result of Covid-19 and allow HEIs to receive Organisational Support (OS) funding if a mobility needs to begin on a virtual basis, provided these placements become physical mobilities when it is possible.
Is there any guidance available for Erasmus+ students?
The European Commission has published FAQs for Erasmus+ students querying the status of their grants. Institutions are advised to review this.
For queries regarding the impact of Covid-19 on European funded programmes, please see advice from the European Commission.
For information on how to use Erasmus funds for study, training or work abroad which has been disrupted due to Covid, institutions should consult the National Agency Mobility Tool+ guidance during Covid-19, which helps institutions process Key Action 103 and 107 Force Majeure cases.
How can UK universities continue to provide quality support and teaching to TNE students?
UK universities that offer programmes to students based overseas must follow rules, instructions and guidance issued by health authorities in the territory where the programmes are delivered, including moving to remote learning where appropriate. As awarding bodies, universities remain responsible for the quality and standards of the programmes, regardless of how and where they are delivered. Universities should especially consider the impact of any changes on vulnerable students, including students unable or less able to access remote learning, and ensure that all students are appropriately supported.
Some universities have adjusted regulations for assessments, progression, extenuating circumstances and degree classification. Some universities are introducing ‘no detriment policies’ or policies designed to help students progress and complete in the face of Covid-19 challenges, often setting alternative assessments in place of exams or professional practice.
Quality and standards
QAA have a range of publications to provide guidance on how to safeguard academic quality and standards while responding to pressures resulting from the pandemic, including the safety and wellbeing of staff and students.
QAA have compiled examples of practice and approaches to learning and teaching, assessment and feedback, and student support in view of the pandemic from institutions in different countries. The list of countries include a mix of TNE competitor (or exporting) and host (or importing) countries.
Transnational students should have access to and be informed of both the university internal complaints mechanisms and external ombudsmen schemes. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for England and Wales (OIA) have published a student FAQ website and a briefing note setting up their approach to complaints in the new academic year. These are applicable to TNE students enrolled in programmes of English and Welsh providers. The regulator for England, the Office for Students (OfS), has indicated that where providers work in partnership with other providers, there needs to be clarity for students about which organisation the student can complain to.
Are there new or adjusted regulatory requirements related to teaching and learning, assessment and student support that apply to TNE?
TNE operations are normally subject to the law applicable in the jurisdiction where the programme is taught and/or the student is located. In England, the OfS has published guidance for providers about student and consumer protection during the Covid-19 pandemic, aspects of which are applicable to transnational students. In particular, the OfS expects providers to consider how their approaches affect those most vulnerable to disruption, including students unable or less able to access and effectively participate in remote learning.
For providers in England and Wales, the OIA has indicated that consumer protection legislation has not been suspended for students. This means that providers still need to deliver learning and other services that are consistent with students’ reasonable expectations. Where providers have not or decide they cannot deliver what was promised they will need to consider how to put that right. A blanket refusal to consider tuition fee refunds in any circumstances will not be considered reasonable. Clauses that attempt to exclude a provider’s liability for failing to deliver the educational service to the required standard, and those giving the provider a wide discretion to change significant aspects of the course of study, contrary to students’ expectations, are unlikely to stand up to scrutiny.
For English universities
The Office for Students (OfS) has published guidance related to their regulatory approach in view of the Covid-19 outbreak. Universities and colleges in England are expected to report on significant changes to the delivery of higher education, including on any relevant matters relating to transnational educational activities. OfS expects providers to apply its guidance about quality and standards during Covid-19 to their transnational educational activities, although they recognise that the specific actions taken by an awarding body to maintain quality and secure standards may need to vary for different delivery locations. In particular, when universities decide that it is not possible to continue delivery, including for transnational students, they should refer to the OfS’s updated guidance on reporting requirements.
The guidance indicates that reporting on significant changes to the delivery of higher education should include transnational educational activities (paragraph 25). In those courses that are delivered through a sub-contractual arrangement (such as franchise) the lead provider (normally the UK university) should report those changes to the OfS. For courses delivered through a validation arrangement, the provider with a direct contractual relationship with the students should make the report (paragraph 24). The guidance exempts providers from the obligation of reporting any new partnerships, including validation or subcontractual arrangements, opening a new campus or intended campus, department, subject or provider closure (paragraph 26), and that they have moved teaching and assessment to an online or other delivery method or have temporarily closed a campus or the provider as a whole, as long as teaching continues to be delivered (paragraph 23).
OfS recently consulted on proposals for a new approach to intervention related to student protection and to regulation related to quality and standards. The proposals explicitly include TNE provision. In a context of rapid change due to coronavirus restrictions, English universities should make sure that any foreseen modification in their TNE arrangements are monitored and, where appropriate, communicated to the regulator.
Relevant resources from the OfS can be found below:
What support is there for universities and university staff teaching programmes remotely through online learning?
TNE providers need to make sure that the quality and integrity of teaching and assessments does not suffer as a result of moving to online learning, and that students are appropriately supported. They also need to factor in any accessibility constraints of students and staff, and keep an eye on regulations operating in the country for online distance learning. Some sector bodies such as Jisc are working to provide country-specific guidance on operating distance learning in key TNE host countries.
- Jisc have a number of coronavirus-related resources, many of which are applicable to TNE provision.
- Jisc operate a Global Education Access Framework to support international students who have studied in the UK and returned home, are planning to start a UK course or are studying online transnationally, gain better access to UK learning materials and resources, and synchronous teaching for their studies.
- QAA Scotland has made available Technology Enhanced Learning curated resources to all QAA members.
- The Centre for Distance Education at the University of London have prepared a web resource base for teaching and assessing online during the Covid-19 crisis.
- The Open University has published information and a list of free resources to help providers, students and staff deliver online education effectively.
- The Department for Education has made available a Skills Toolkit made up of free online courses, tools and resources to help improve digital and numeracy skills. The Toolkit includes a collection of resources from the UK’s leading educational experts and employers.
- UNESCO has convened a ‘Global COVID-19 Education Coalition’ platform for collaboration and exchange to protect the right to education during the disruption and beyond.
- Jisc have developed a TNE licensing service for higher education institutions that need support in the provision of an equitable student experience for students based overseas and/or have strategic plans to become players in the global education market.
- Jisc have published guidance relating to delivering remote access to Jisc licensed content to students outside of the UK.
- Jisc have compiled a list of publishers and content providers who have widened the access to their resources.
Is online learning being recognised as an alternative to onsite learning?
Recognition of online learning varies by jurisdiction. Most TNE host countries are being flexible in their recognition policies while health regulations prevent students from attending face-to-face teaching either in country or in the UK. It is however unlikely that exceptional recognition measures will be extended beyond a reasonable period of time after restrictions to face-to-face teaching and/or international travel are lifted. It is therefore recommended to check frequently with the British Council and FCDO authorities in the countries where you are delivering online learning to ensure the period of study will be recognised.
Ecctis have published a Guide to Recognition Issues in International Distance Learning, focusing on China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates and the United States of America.
The Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China and CSCSE confirmed that it is exceptionally allowed for students enrolled on in-person courses but unable to study abroad due to Covid-19 to have their qualifications recognised. This only applies to full-time registered students studying online as a result of their universities' Covid-19 mitigation measures. It should not be interpreted as a change in the policy for recognition of online delivery more broadly.
UUKi is working with government and sector agencies to understand where there are gaps in our knowledge of the recognition of online learning applied in response to Covid-19 that could prevent TNE students from progressing to further study or professional practice. If you encounter any barrier to recognition of distance learning please contact the TNE team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Should UK universities keep their commitments to send fly-out academic staff for face-to-face teaching overseas at TNE programmes?
The FCDO has updated its global advisory. Under current UK Covid-19 restrictions, international travel is not permitted to certain countries (e.g. red list countries for England) unless travellers have a legally permitted reason to do so. Different reasons apply in the different nations of the UK.
Under current conditions, staff who would normally have travelled overseas to teach students on TNE programmes may decide to conduct their business remotely. Universities should ensure that those staff are appropriately supported and that the quality of teaching does not suffer as a result of the lack of face-to-face instruction, under the same conditions they apply to students and staff based in the UK. Staff based overseas may decide to remain in the territory where the TNE programmes are delivered. It is up to each university to decide what support and advice they offer to staff who remain overseas, although they should ensure that staff are aware of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) travel advice and that appropriate communication and support measures are in place.
Universities should make sure that insurance is valid in view of FCDO advice. University staff teaching or working on TNE programmes overseas must also follow travel advice and guidance provided by local authorities, and observe those provided by their country of citizenship.
How can UK universities work with TNE partners under Covid-19 teaching and travel restrictions?
Both TNE partners and students should be consulted on what support they need to ensure the continuity of provision. It is likely that TNE partners will be anxious about the knock-on effects of the restrictions to onsite teaching or travel. In some instances, their financial viability may depend on the partnership with UK institutions, and local authorities may not be able or willing to provide financial relief.
TNE partners are also closer to the local conditions and can provide useful intelligence and guidance on the best measures to protect students and staff working on TNE programmes, and on safeguarding standards and quality when moving to online teaching. We are aware of recognition issues with online provision in some countries. There are reports of countries offering temporary flexibility in the recognition of online teaching, learning and assessment (for example, China, UAE, Malaysia). In many cases governments have temporarily accepted online teaching and assessment as contingency measure for the duration of the crisis.