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Making the final choice

What will university look like?

The coronavirus pandemic makes it a different experience for students and applicants. Unis have adapted in different ways and student life will continue to change. Learn more about what to expect when you go to uni.

Woman student on university campus learning wearing face mask


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  1. How will universities teach students?

  2. What will campus life be like?

  3. What's university like in a lockdown?
  4. How will university accommodation work?

  5. What's being done about tuition fees?

  6. What extra support is available to students?
  7. What about part-time work and budgeting?

  8. How can you make the most of university during a pandemic?

How will universities teach students?

Most universities currently have a mix of face-to-face and online learning called a ‘blended’ approach. Smaller classes such as seminars, tutorials and group classes are being delivered as normal but with extra safety measures in place. This is different in each region and university, with those in higher tiers moving all learning online.

Extra safety measures include:

  • One-way systems
  • Distancing signs
  • Staggered lesson times
  • Repeating lectures, pre-recording lectures or different groups assigned to different times
  • Distancing measures in cafes and shops
  • High levels of hygiene and sanitisation around campus
  • Mass and asymptomatic coronavirus testing on campus (piloted in December 2020 and beyond in England and elsewhere in the UK). 

Courses with practical components have specific measures in place, such as changes in layout, barrier screens and reduced group sizes.

Some universities are also streaming campus-based learning for those who can’t make it to campus or aren’t comfortable doing so, for example, if a student is asked to shield or self isolate.

'Blended’ learning

Most universities are operating a type of ‘blended’ learning and we expect this to continue for some time. The uni will let you know how your course will be taught, if this will change, and what safety steps are being taken.

All universities are taking steps to make sure students aren’t disadvantaged in terms of their learning. If students feel uncomfortable or can’t get to campus for face-to-face seminars or practicals, unis are providing recordings or other ways to make sure they get the teaching they need.

What will campus life be like?

Face coverings are being worn in places such as corridors, communal spaces and at events. These measures will vary from uni to uni and will depend on location. You can find updates on university guidelines on their websites. Some universities have their own testing systems and advice about self-isolation.

Other ways universities are keeping campuses secure include:

  • Assigning each student a specific chair in lecture theatres 
  • Signing in to campus locations
  • Supplying free face masks 
  • More outdoor activities such as film and food festivals 
  • Bookable lab, studio and library times

Social life

Social events are undoubtedly different now. Student unions are running distanced and outdoor events but they’ll be more limited in size and may need bookings.

Campus bars and unions are likely to be open as campuses are 'COVID-secure' environments. Rules on groups will fluctuate from region to region. For example, during lockdown, these may be temporarily closed or be takeaway food and drink only.

University sport

Gyms and sports centres are currently open, and users are encouraged to book a slot online and shower at home afterwards. Spectators may not be allowed into indoor venues or, where possible, will also have to pre-book.

Non-contact sports are allowed, with others to be permitted in the future. Again, the numbers allowed to play at a time are lower than normal. The situation changes regularly and may differ between countries, regions and universities.

The most up to date situation is provided via each university. The BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) competition has been largely suspended until 2021, but BUCS and other university sport websites are still active and providing training and social ideas.

Many unis are asking students to book places online or through an app, with a range of online health and wellbeing classes available.

What’s university like in a lockdown?

Each city, region and country (England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland) has different rules. Universities are communicating what they and the governments are doing, and what rules students should follow.

Some universities like Cambridge and Cardiff have voluntary screening in place and most have apps for quick reporting of symptoms. Rapid response tests offer help with transport for testing.

Many other universities have innovative support packages in place. For example, Bolton has a heavily discounted care package (£10 per week) for all students self-isolating, De Montfort plans a Good Neighbours student volunteer service, and Gloucestershire has regular 'check-ins' with friends, neighbours and classmates.

How will university accommodation work?

Students sharing a kitchen and bathroom are considered a 'household' and don't need to socially distance from each other.

As with schools, shops and services, extra cleaning is being carried out to keep halls and all public spaces as sanitised as possible.

Catered halls may offer scheduled times, and takeaway service and shared kitchens may have timetables for use. Face coverings must be worn in shared areas.

Travel to and from university

Some unis have increased access to bike schemes – Bolton has bought 1,000 bicycles and helmets for free student use and new e-scooters have been rolled out across England.

At Swansea, rental bike schemes have reopened and some London-based unis have increased the number of bike racks to encourage students to cycle to campus rather than use public transport.

Students can also use apps to check public transport. For example, the First Bus app lets you see how many seats are free on First Bus services. University campus shuttles are continuing for those students who live off campus in student villages.

Safe travel rules apply to all students who are being encouraged to walk or cycle to university.

What's being done about tuition fees?

Currently there are no plans to change tuition fees for 2021 entrants.

Universities are working hard to provide the best teaching experience to compensate and are committed to high-quality teaching regardless of the delivery method.

What extra support is available to students?

All students in financial need can apply for hardship funds.

The Welsh Government has announced £10 million for mental health support, hardship funds, support for self-isolating students and vulnerable students.

During lockdown, personal tutors and normal support services adapted to offer support to students online. There may be dedicated support for students asked to self-isolate such as 'buddy' systems, as well as phone counselling and 24-hour support systems.

Some unis like University of the West of England, Bristol and De Montfort are offering extra support to help students switch to blended learning. Others also offer support to students who don't have their own equipment, either as free laptop loans or hardship funds and short-term financial loans.

One-to-one tutorials are offered online and sometimes in-person (socially distanced). There are also skills-specific tutorials in writing, maths and stats, which can be pre-booked (again in person or online).

International students

International students having to quarantine are being supported, sometimes with subsidised accommodation and/or food packages.

Students may be collected from arrival airports for free. Queen's University Belfast even chartered a flight to bring in students from China. Brunel offered international students January starts in a number of programmes, with year two starting from September 2021 as normal.

Check university websites to find out what they’re doing for international students.

What about part-time work and budgeting?

On-campus roles (such as student ambassadors and customer services) may still be available, as well as roles to help keep the campus COVID-safe. Some student unions have temporarily paused recruitment. Royal Holloway ran a virtual part-time job fair with local employers. Gloucestershire, and many other unis, use the Unibuddy online system to allow their student ambassadors and campus tour guides to continue working online at small-scale campus visits.

Students are earning less and working less frequently, but many are still earning through part-time jobs. There are some jobs available to students outside of university, including: 

  • Supermarkets
  • Food delivery
  • Customer services (online)
  • Self-employed music/subject tutor
  • Health and social care roles
  • Fruit picking

How can you make the most of university during a pandemic?

Going to university lets you continue your education and work towards your future. If you’re not going to go to uni, consider what you’ll do instead.

Skills like remote working, studying online and adapting to change are transferable and will be valued by many employers. They’re always important if your future plans include working for yourself.

Unis are working hard to provide social events, access to sport and other pastimes. You’ll still make new friends at uni, be able to join societies, learn new skills and build professional networks.

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