School leavers moving to UK given hope for near-normal student experience

Some A-Level pupils will face quarantine when they travel to universities in Britain

Students moving to the UK after receiving their school-leaving A-Level results overseas this week were told they should have “nothing to be scared of” despite an array of Covid-related difficulties.

A-Level grades set by teachers will be published on Tuesday after exams were cancelled for a second year running.

Melody Sequeira, a second-year student at the University of Glasgow who lives in Dubai, spent the second half of last year studying remotely from the UAE. “I was in the same situation a year back,” she said of results day. “These changes keep happening and we have to adapt and go with the flow."

With some international students having to quarantine when they arrive in Britain as Covid restrictions continue to restrict travel, unusual hurdles to a 'fresher' embarking on university life remain.

Institutions are hoping that teaching can be as close to normal as possible in the coming year after most restrictions were lifted on domestic life.

Ms Sequeira said university staff supported international students with practical and mental health issues, and urged this year’s arrivals not to worry.

“There is nothing to be scared about or nervous about because you’ll be able to handle it. If I can do it, even they can,” she said.

The time difference between Glasgow and Dubai made online learning harder, she said, and curtailed her access to resources such as the library.

A-Level students will find out from Ucas, the UK’s centralised admissions service, whether they have a university place.

Students from red-list countries can travel to England if they have a UK visa but there is no exemption from a 10-day hotel quarantine. The UAE was removed from the red list last week.

Some universities are paying for hotel quarantine, which can cost £1,750 or more including Covid tests.

Ciara Newby, a member of the British Universities’ International Liaison, said some overseas students had faced financial hardship during the pandemic.

“We’ve found that some international students might have come from a country where furlough wasn’t in place,” she said at a Ucas event.

“It might be that you have to isolate at a certain time during the year and the university are there to support you with that.”

People arriving from amber-list countries must quarantine at home unless they have been fully vaccinated in Britain, the EU or the US.

Ministers have yet to decide whether Covid vaccines will be compulsory for university students but have not ruled this out.

Ms Sequeira said finding accommodation and dealing with lettings agents was difficult when she was thousands of miles from Glasgow.

“The whole situation has just been stressful because I had no one in Scotland to pack my stuff for me,” she said.

Another complication is that some English language testing centres that certify people for visas are closed because of the pandemic.

But Ms Newby said there were numerous alternatives and some tests could be taken online.

Once they arrive, students may have some online learning next term, said Stephanie Harris, an international engagement specialist at Universities UK.

Some international students have called for tuition fees to be reduced because they were not getting full value for their money during the pandemic.

“Predominantly the kind of plans going ahead are for face-to-face teaching and an as-normal-as-possible student experience for the next year,” Ms Harris said.

“That is likely in some instances to be supported by some online learning.”

Ms Newby said Covid-era hygiene measures such as staggered start times and better ventilation were also likely to stay.

“If you’ve been out of education for a while, it can seem quite overwhelming,” she said.

“From a university perspective, students are at the heart of everything we do and we want to make sure that you have a successful transition.”

Updated: August 9th 2021, 1:29 PM
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