Cassandra Barragan, scholar at University of Sussex, shares her experiences.
Your questions about COVID-19 answered
We understand that COVID-19 raises questions for international students studying in the UK.
So to help provide some answers to some of your questions, we asked Vivienne Stern, Director at Universities UK International (UUKI), the collective voice of 139 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Hear what she had to say:
- How will students be able to socialise, given the safety measures in place due to COVID-19?
- How will universities support students who need to quarantine for two weeks after arriving in the UK?
- How are students looked after if they need to self-isolate?
- What does online learning look like at a UK university?
Explore the #WeAreTogether campaign.
Vivienne: This is really important. Particularly for international students coming to the UK, perhaps for the first time, and they don’t have friends or family here, it’s really important that there are opportunities for them to begin to mix with other students, to begin to form friendships, and to experience a bit of life. Universities are trying to find good ways of doing that safely.
At the moment, we’re still seeing universities doing lots of outdoor social activities where of course the risk of transmission is a lot lower. And the weather is allowing that for the moment! I’m sure that being quite hardy, we’ll try and keep that going for as long as it’s possible to do that. But there are also ways of keeping those social opportunities face-to-face going on a smaller scale. So, yes we maybe have to limit the numbers, or we have to space people out, but there will be a lot of attention to giving international students particularly, the chance to interact. And that’s backed up by social stuff online, and of course some of it has to be online.
If you want to know more about this, one of the things my organisation [UUKI] has done, is launch a campaign called We Are Together. The intention is to give a voice to international students who are with us at the moment, to describe how they’re experiencing studying in the UK, share their tips and tricks for managing to keep the social stuff going, to overcome the mental health challenges that COVID brings. So if you want to hear it from students who are here with us now, you can look at the Instagram channel which is ‘wearetogether_uk’, and that’s got lots of our current students trying to explain what it’s really like. That also applies to studying online, how their universities are supporting them, and it gives you a flavour of what life is like here.
2. How will universities support students who need to quarantine for two weeks after arriving in the UK?
Read UUKI’s guidance for universities to consider as they continue to provide high-quality teaching throughout the pandemic.
Vivienne: Universities UK International (UUKI), my organisation, published guidance for universities back in the summer. It sets out what we think universities will need to do in order to support international students, from the point that they leave their home country to the point at which their self-isolation period is finished.
Self-isolation doesn’t apply to all students but the first thing to say to students who are planning to come to the UK is get in touch with your university to make sure you understand what the arrangements are, and what applies to you.
It will be in most cases possible for the university to support you through that self-isolation period.
Vivienne: All universities have plans. They have arrangements in place that allow them to escalate activity really quickly. It means that if, for one reason or another, a group of students have to isolate on campus, there are plans in place to make sure they’re supported whilst they do that. Universities have invested an awful lot into things like mental health support; in the kind of support students will need if they can’t go out and do their own shopping or if they cant get access to food deliveries; and also of course making sure there’s a continuity in the provision of education, so if you had been expecting to go into a face-to-face seminar, or go into a lab, then universities will have in place mechanisms to make sure you can continue to study in a different way.
Find out more about online learning in the UK.
Vivienne: I think the first thing to say is that UK universities already provided quite a lot of education via virtual mechanisms even before the crisis. Most universities would have a thing called a virtual learning environment that supported students that were physically on campus. You could get access to recordings of lectures or other sorts of learning resources. In a way it wasn’t a revolution, but it has been a really significant shift.
I think the most important thing to get across is that it’s not just you sitting in a bedroom, receiving passively lectures recorded by staff. It’s quite interactive. Universities are making use of digital tools to make sure students can get involved in discussions with each other and with their academic staff.
Some students have said there are some advantages to this. Maybe you’re a bit shy and you don’t like sticking your hand up in class. In these virtual platforms you can message in a chat, you can have a conversation that perhaps you wouldn’t have been confident enough to have in the classroom. And of course, there’s a lot more recorded materials so you can go back and watch a lecture or listen again to a debate that you didn’t really follow the first time round. Particularly for people whose first language isn’t English, that might be quite useful.
UK universities are committed to making life and study enjoyable and rewarding, despite COVID-19.
In the final edition of the class of 2019’s scholar blogs, we asked them for advice they may have for Chevening’s class of 2020. Afterall, it’s not every day that a cohort faces a global pandemic which changes absolutely everything for them including the way they study, travel, and form relationships. So, class of 2020, […]