Coronavirus: Should I go to university this year?

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The deadline for students to decide whether or not to accept university offers for the new academic year passed on Thursday.

It was a big decision – even more so this year, with many lectures due to take place online and socialising difficult.

Will universities be open as normal in September?

There are 137 universities in the UK, and 89 out of 92 of them which replied to a Universities UK survey will provide some in-person teaching next term,

This will be part of a so-called “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?

The deadline to decide on whether to accept offers was pushed back to Thursday.

You had to make two choices – a firm first-choice university and an insurance, or back-up one, and 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decide not to go to university at all, you must phone the ones holding you a place to ask for your application to be withdrawn.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, which often means falling back on parents.

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.

University students having a lecture

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Students in the UK in numbers (2018-19)

  • 2.38 millionstudents in UK higher education

  • 1.8 millionof them undergraduates

  • 480,000students from outside the UK

  • 541,240became undergraduates in 2019

Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency

Can I defer my place?

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 recent study revealed that 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 showed that 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 is going to 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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CoronaVirus translator

What do all these terms mean?

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  • Antibodies test

    A medical test that can show if a person has had the coronavirus and now has some immunity. The test detects antibodies in the blood, which are produced by the body to fight off the disease.

  • Asymptomatic

    Someone who has a disease but does not have any of the symptoms it causes. Some studies suggest some people with coronavirus carry the disease but don’t show the common symptoms, such as a persistent cough or high temperature.

  • Containment phase

    The first part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, which involved trying to identify infected people early and trace anyone who had been in close contact with them.

  • Coronavirus

    One of a group of viruses that can cause severe or mild illness in humans and animals. The coronavirus currently sweeping the world causes the disease Covid-19. The common cold and influenza (flu) are other types of coronaviruses.

  • Covid-19

    The disease caused by the coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. It primarily affects the lungs.

  • Delay phase

    The second part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, in which measures such as social distancing are used to delay its spread.

  • Fixed penalty notice

    A fine designed to deal with an offence on the spot, instead of in court. These are often for driving offences, but now also cover anti-social behaviour and breaches of the coronavirus lockdown.

  • Flatten the curve

    Health experts use a line on a chart to show numbers of new coronavirus cases. If a lot of people get the virus in a short period of time, the line might rise sharply and look a bit like a mountain. However, taking measures to reduce infections can spread cases out over a longer period and means the “curve” is flatter. This makes it easier for health systems to cope.

  • Flu

    Short for influenza, a virus that routinely causes disease in humans and animals, in seasonal epidemics.

  • Furlough

    Supports firms hit by coronavirus by temporarily helping pay the wages of some staff. It allows employees to remain on the payroll, even though they aren’t working.

  • Herd immunity

    How the spread of a disease slows after a sufficiently large proportion of a population has been exposed to it.

  • Immune

    A person whose body can withstand or fend off a disease is said to be immune to it. Once a person has recovered from the disease caused by the coronavirus, Covid-19, for example, it is thought they cannot catch it again for a certain period of time.

  • Incubation period

    The period of time between catching a disease and starting to display symptoms.

  • Intensive care

    Hospital wards which treat patients who are very ill. They are run by specially-trained healthcare staff and contain specialist equipment.

  • Lockdown

    Restrictions on movement or daily life, where public buildings are closed and people told to stay at home. Lockdowns have been imposed in several countries as part of drastic efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus.

  • Mitigation phase

    The third part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, which will involve attempts to lessen the impact of a high number of cases on public services. This could mean the NHS halting all non-critical care and police responding to major crimes and emergencies only.

  • NHS 111

    The NHS’s 24-hour phone and online service, which offers medical advice to anyone who needs it. People in England and Wales are advised to ring the service if they are worried about their symptoms. In Scotland, they should check NHS inform, then ring their GP in office hours or 111 out of hours. In Northern Ireland, they should call their GP.

  • Outbreak

    Multiple cases of a disease occurring rapidly, in a cluster or different locations.

  • Pandemic

    An epidemic of serious disease spreading rapidly in many countries simultaneously.

  • Phase 2

    This is when the UK will start to lift some of its lockdown rules while still trying to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

  • PPE

    PPE, or personal protective equipment, is clothing and kit such as masks, aprons, gloves and goggles used by medical staff, care workers and others to protect themselves against infection from coronavirus patients and other people who might be carrying the disease.

  • Quarantine

    The isolation of people exposed to a contagious disease to prevent its spread.

  • R0

    R0, pronounced “R-naught”, is the average number of people who will catch the disease from a single infected person. If the R0 of coronavirus in a particular population is 2, then on average each case will create two more new cases. The value therefore gives an indication of how much the infection could spread.

  • Recession

    This happens when there is a significant drop in income, jobs and sales in a country for two consecutive three-month periods.

  • Sars

    Severe acute respiratory syndrome, a type of coronavirus that emerged in Asia in 2003.

  • Self-isolation

    Staying inside and avoiding all contact with other people, with the aim of preventing the spread of a disease.

  • Social distancing

    Keeping away from other people, with the aim of slowing down transmission of a disease. The government advises not seeing friends or relatives other than those you live with, working from home where possible and avoiding public transport.

  • State of emergency

    Measures taken by a government to restrict daily life while it deals with a crisis. This can involve closing schools and workplaces, restricting the movement of people and even deploying the armed forces to support the regular emergency services.

  • Statutory instrument

    These can be used by government ministers to implement new laws or regulations, or change existing laws. They are an easier alternative to passing a full Act of Parliament.

  • Symptoms

    Any sign of disease, triggered by the body’s immune system as it attempts to fight off the infection. The main symptoms of the coronavirus are a fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.

  • Vaccine

    A treatment that causes the body to produce antibodies, which fight off a disease, and gives immunity against further infection.

  • Ventilator

    A machine that takes over breathing for the body when disease has caused the lungs to fail.

  • Virus

    A tiny agent that copies itself inside the living cells of any organism. Viruses can cause these cells to die and interrupt the body’s normal chemical processes, causing disease.

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