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September intake in UK 2020: What international students should know

september intake in UK
September intake in UK is expected to be delayed or carried out through online classes. Source: Justin Tallis/AFP

One of the many burning questions for international students planning to head back to the UK or starting studies this year is whether the September intake in the UK will go on as planned.

It’s still early days as the UK government continues to monitor the developing COVID-19 situation, but a few universities have already announced their plans for the September intake.

There are currently 226,463 COVID-19 cases in the UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently announced a slight easing of the lockdown to help revive the economy.

What happens to the September intake will depend on a number of factors from now until then, such as a spike in infection rates and possible new waves of the virus.

Here’s what we know so far about how UK universities will likely ease into a new normal a few months down the line.

September intake in the UK may be delayed

It is likely that the September intake for 2020 will be pushed back while universities adapt to the new learning environment.

In an e-mail to students, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland announced it is postponing their start of the academic year.

Staff are now preparing for the next session by “planning for online provision, which will be available to students who cannot travel to campus, or which will replace face-to-face teaching in the event of continued restrictions in September 2020.”

Vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham Anthony Seldon wrote on Times Higher Education that there are rising calls for the academic year to begin in January instead of September. One of the reasons cited is that many international students are not able to travel to the UK or sit for their English proficiency tests.

It’s not the best idea and that it will most likely not happen, he concedes.

A January 2021 start would “unfairly handicap disadvantaged students, who find the transition hard enough as it is,” and that keeping to a September or October 2020 start at the latest, October is the “only sensible option, and everything should be done to encourage home and international students to understand that”.

september intake in UK

People cycle on Oxford Street in London on May 2, 2020, as life in Britain continues during the nationwide lockdown due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Britain’s overall death toll from the coronavirus outbreak rose by 739 to 27,510 on May 1. Source: Justin Tallis/AFP

Classes in September will likely be conducted partially or fully online

Since it looks like the September intake may go on as planned — with a few weeks delay at the most —  it will probably start off with online learning followed by a possible transition to face-to-face learning when lockdowns have fully eased.

As social distancing measures will likely still be in place by September, students can expect universities to continue with online learning.

The University of Manchester has confirmed it will keep all of its lectures online for at least one semester when the next academic year starts.

In an email recently sent to students, vice-president for teaching, learning and students April McMahon said that the semester will start in late September with little change to their start dates, but it would “provide our lectures and some other aspects of learning online”.

She also stated that the lecture theatre environment does not support spatial separation and social distancing easily.

Despite plans for a partially online start, the university said they are keen to continue with some face-to-face activities such as “small group teaching and tutorials as safely and as soon as they can.”

It remains to be seen what other universities in the UK have planned for the September intake 2020 but a complete transition back to face-to-face learning this fall looks unlikely for now.

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