The government recognises that the COVID-19 outbreak will have an unparalleled impact on all elements of the global and UK economy. The higher education sector, including student recruitment, is no exception. We have been working closely with the sector to monitor the likely impacts of COVID-19 on international student numbers, including restrictions on travel.
The UK’s world-leading universities remain open to international students and we are working as a priority to make processes as flexible and easy as possible to allow students to study at UK institutions in the 2020-21 academic year.
On 22 June, with my counterparts in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, I wrote to prospective international students to outline the support and guidance that is available to students who are considering studying in the UK from the autumn. In the letter, I reiterated the temporary and targeted flexibilities that the government has announced for international students. These flexibilities include the visa guidance updated on 16 June, which provides greater certainty for international higher education students. The visa guidance includes the latest information for those who might have questions around visa expiry, switching visa category within the UK and distance learning. The government has also provided reassurances regarding distance learning, confirming that students will be permitted to study partially online for the 2020/21 academic year, provided that they transition to face-to-face learning as soon as circumstances allow. The government has also confirmed that those studying by distance learning or blended learning will be eligible to apply for the graduate route provided that they are in the UK by 6 April 2021 (and that they meet other requirements of the route). The government is applying discretion under the current circumstances to ensure international students are not negatively impacted if they find themselves in a position where they cannot comply with certain visa rules.
We are also in discussions with Universities UK and other sector representatives on a regular basis to ensure that we are united in welcoming international students to the UK. We expect international students - particularly those who will be subject to the 14-day self-isolation period - to be appropriately supported upon arrival by their chosen university during these unprecedented times. International students who are considering studying at a UK higher education provider from September 2020 should contact their chosen university to find out how they are adapting to the COVID-19 outbreak.
On Friday 5 June, the government also announced that Sir Steve Smith would be the UK’s new International Education Champion as part of the government’s International Education Strategy. Sir Steve will assist with opening up export growth opportunities for the whole UK education sector, which will include attracting international students to UK Universities. The International Education Strategy, published in March 2019 by the Department for Education and the Department for International Trade, set out a commitment to review progress following its publication. The review, which we intend to publish this autumn, will ensure that the International Education Strategy responds to the challenges that are posed by COVID-19.