Student plans are returning to normal

Overseas-education | Lisa Kao 7 Jul 2020

Despite the impact of Covid-19 on tertiary education, the latest figures from the UK's Universities and Colleges Admissions Service recorded a rise in the number of students planning to start school as usual in the coming school year.

In late June, the shared admissions service for higher education, which manages full-time undergraduate courses at more than 370 universities and colleges across Britain, published the offer-acceptance statistics for the first time to provide details of student attitudes toward university applications during the pandemic.

The numbers show that more undergraduate applicants accepted offers to immediately start studying at university compared with last year.

This applies to both UK applicants and applicants from outside the European Union. UK applicants showed a 1 percent rise, while those outside the EU rose 12 percent.

At the same time, there are still students who are opting to defer the starting date of their studies, though the figures have dropped. Students applying for a deferred start date numbered 18,910 from the UK and 640 for the EU, a drop of 2 percent and 9 percent respectively compared with last year.

However, the statistics also showed that 200 more applicants outside the EU had chosen to defer their studies, a 21 percent increase compared with last year.

But UCAS explained that the increase in applicants from outside the EU opting for deferments should be compared with the 15 percent overall rise in non-EU applicants.

The general positive attitude shown from the figures is welcomed by the higher education sector.

UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant said: "Students have made their decisions and are ready to take up the life-changing opportunities that higher education can bring."

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, was also happy with the news.

"We welcome the fact that so many students are defying the doom mongers and are planning to start their university courses in September as normal," he said.

"We can understand why some students may want to defer their places because of the disruption caused by the coronavirus emergency, but we don't think there is anything to be gained if it ends up with them sitting at home for a year."

Marchant, with Minister of State for Universities Michelle Donelan and Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis, attributed the optimistic attitude of students toward the coming school year to good planning by British universities.

"It is fantastic to see UCAS data showing most students have committed to going to university in September compared to this point last year, showing just how valuable the planning and hard work from our universities has been," said Donelan.

Facing social-distancing concerns, British universities are predominantly adopting a blended learning method, which combines on-campus teaching with appropriate social distancing measures and online learning.

Student Crowd, a university review site, said that 92.8 percent of universities have confirmed the learning method in the coming academic year; 84.7 percent of British universities will adopt a blended learning approach, with only 0.7 percent adopting an online-only learning approach.

Universities are also holding virtual open days for incoming students to know more about the system.

Universities UK, which represents 137 universities in the country, also showed similar results in its survey in mid-June.

Of the 92 universities that responded to this survey, 89 are planning to provide in-person teaching during the 2020 autumn term, while the others will provide only online teaching.

Moreover, 87 percent stated that their services will go beyond just the resumption of teaching and learning.

They said they will also offer in-person social opportunities, including outside events and sporting activities, but all in line with public health guidance.

"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," said the UUK chief executive.

"Universities are committed to providing an engaging academic and social experience for all while ensuring the safety and welfare of the whole university community."

Despite preparations for students to start their studies as usual in the new academic year, they will still have the option to defer their studies.

With no UCAS deadline for deferring applications, applicants can request to defer at any point in the application cycle.

However, the decision to accept an applicant's deferral request will be made by individual universities or colleges.

International students will still have to undergo a 14-day quarantine when they enter the UK, with concerns still present about whether their student visas are applicable for the blended study mode adopted by most universities.

UUK urged the government to reassure students that online study will not disqualify students from the new Graduate Route, which gives students post-study working opportunities in Britain; and ensure students can start courses online by extending the visa application window from three months to six months; and extend rules allowing Tier 4 students to study partly online.

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