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Coronavirus: University closures and what they mean

Universities across the world have needed to take decisive action to protect the wellbeing of staff and students. It can be confusing to understand what is happening, so we've identified the key points of what this may mean for you.

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Coronavirus has caused unprecedented change and disruption across the globe. It has impacted all aspects of life including that of universities and students. In order to comply with government law and public health advice it has become necessary for universities to scale back their on-campus operations in order to ensure the safety of staff and students. This has implications for the entire university community at respective institutions, and especially for current and prospective international students. Working out what it all means can be hard work, especially due to the fluid nature of the global situation. We’ve distilled the key points and areas that may affect you when a university closes its campus.



What happens when a university closes?


There are a number of key actions that are taken by a university when responding to an emergency situation that requires swift action and poses significant challenges for students. Firstly, a university will cut down and cancel all non-essential activities and services on a campus. This can be everything from university society meetings to sport and on-campus shops to social events. Following this, a university then begins to identify courses, classes, tutorials and subjects that can be cancelled short-term without serious academic repercussions. The academic programme is scaled backed fairly dramatically.


The next phase is the shutting down the majority of campus operations and on-campus activities completely. This means the closure of facilities, buildings and services. Critically for international students this can mean that accommodation is affected, resulting in moving elsewhere on campus, being accommodated off campus or leaving campus accommodation to travel home. Remember that you're not alone and many other international students are going through a similar experience

University planning

How will I know what's happening?

Universities will have designed a comprehensive communication strategy which addresses key issues of the closure for students. You may receive mobile updates, emails, phone calls and importantly can contact a university representative directly online. Universities have also developed online resources and portals on their websites that facilitate direct communication and address key issues. You may have to do a little online research, but the information should not be too difficult to find. 


Will a university offer online services?


Many universities already have significant infrastructure in place to offer the majority of their student services virtually and this can be the case for certain academic services as well. The services universities have moved online include:


  • Administration
  • Student counselling and wellbeing
  • Careers guidance
  • Enrolment and application
  • Scholarships and financial aid
  • Academic counselling and support
  • Library services
  • Residential life


Naturally you will be restricted from accessing physical infrastructure on campus including buildings and facilities. That being said, universities are doing their best to ensure that certain core services remain up and running, such as IT.


What about university classes and courses?


A university will aim to prevent significant disruption to the current academic programme that may affect student outcomes. Although it’s not possible for institutions to replicate all aspects of a degree programme online, much can still be accomplished through online learning. There may be a minimal learning curve and slight disruption as schedules are re-oriented and materials re-developed, but you should still get access to the same level of academic expertise as you would have done in person.

Online learning


What about the current semester?


Many universities will offer the rest of their semester courses and degree programmes online which may continue further into the year, until such time as it is safe to re-open campuses. If you’re particularly worried about exams and assessments, universities have made contingency plans for this aspect of the curriculum. For example, a university may alter the original structure of assessments and testing in order to incorporate previous results and work, as well as alternative ways of demonstrating knowledge. Exams may be made open book and the time frames for completion extended.  In cases where your circumstances may be unique or difficult, such as having to travel home with limited access to online resources, universities are designing ways of taking this into account so that it does not negatively impact students. This can include using previous appraisals to predict outcomes or arranging different assessment periods.



What happens if I need to leave campus?


Unfortunately, due to travel restrictions, personal circumstances, university policy and government guidelines it may have been necessary for you to leave campus accommodation. You may have also decided that you would prefer to return to live with family during this time. We've got some great advice on how to cope with the transition. Remember to always check that you can travel before making any decisions. There are a few key points to consider if you have left or intend to leave university accommodation:


  • Have you informed the university of your intention to do so?
  • Do you understand the terms and conditions of your accommodation contract?
  • Do you know if you will be given a reduction on accommodation fees?
  • Do you know what deadlines apply and what notice you need to give?
  • Have you checked what happens to your possessions if you can’t take them with you?
  • Do you plan to return when the university re-opens?
  • Have you verified what implications this may have for your study visa and sponsorship?


Student housing


In the event that you are staying in privately rented accommodation, you will need to evaluate the terms and conditions of your lease. This is particularly true with what is known as a ‘break-clause’ which allows you to terminate a lease early, but with possible penalties. Usually a break clause will only be allowed after a certain amount of time has elapsed on a lease.


If you are sharing the accommodation with other students it may mean negotiating with your landlord.  Remember that you always need to give notice in writing and that certain terms of your contract may not be able to be re-negotiated. There is the possibility that given the current circumstances you can ask your landlord to consider giving you a rent break or a reduction in rent.


What if I can't leave campus? 


For various reasons, you may be unable to leave the country in which you are studying and will need to continue staying in university accommodation. Make sure that the university are first and foremost aware of this. Many have plans in place to keep essential services running, such as catering, IT and estate management. Staying on campus may mean a move to new facilities or the adoption of new procedures. You will also be subject to the restrictions put in place by particular countries.


Staying on campus when the university is not operating as usual can mean that you feel isolated or anxious. Remember that there is help available and looking after your mental wellbeing is key. Make sure that you have contact with a university representative to discuss your concerns and that you can contact family and friends. We also have some ideas of how you may be able to stay productive during this time. If you have any extenuating circumstances, such as not being able to leave at the end of term, make sure that you inform your university so that they can evaluate your case. It may be possible to stay on campus longer.



Communication is key to planning


With the rapidly evolving nature of the current situation it’s essential to keep open channels of communication with a university. This includes both active and passive channels, meaning channels where you communicate directly with others and ask questions,  and channels where you receive information. This can include phone calls, email, social media and even online meetings. Make sure that you’re up to date with the latest developments by consulting dedicated university portals and staying aware of the latest country level developments, such as travel restrictions and lockdowns.


If you are a prospective international student, asking the right questions is key to informing your decisions. This can be everything from whether a course you wish to study will be available online or if you can apply for a scholarship. Universities have put numerous plans in place to try and cater for students as best as possible given the circumstances. Remember that although the conditions being faced at the moment are challenging, there are always innovative, creative and possible solutions.


Why not take some time out to read about how you can stay fit and healthy or ways to develop your skills when spending more time indoors?


Communicating with a university

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