Michelle Donelan MP - Minister of State for Universities 27/03/2020 @ 09:00
As Universities Minister, I wanted to write to students in higher education to explain the latest developments in the battle against COVID-19.
I want to reassure you that we are doing all we can to keep you safe and to mitigate the worst effects of the virus on you and your education. The Government is working closely with the HE sector on a wide range of issues, and student wellbeing is at the heart of those discussions.
Students in residence halls in England
While many students will already have travelled home, I know that those of you who have not, or cannot, will be concerned about what you should do now.
The Government’s advice is that students remaining at university in England should now stay where they are and not attempt to travel. If you are living in student halls, or private rented accommodation, you should remain there and stay indoors while current restrictions are in force. As the Prime Minister said, staying put and remaining indoors is a crucial step now to slow the rate of transmission of COVID-19, to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, and save the lives of fellow citizens. The government published advice on staying at home here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others
Should you or any of your friends fall ill while in your student residence, there is guidance on self-isolating here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-isolation-for-residential-educational-settings/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-isolation-for-residential-educational-settings
I have been discussing with HE providers the additional support that they can give to students. That includes continuing to provide accommodation for those who cannot travel home or have no alternative residence. Providers will also offer a range of other support services to students, including catering and cleaning, and also student health and welfare. We know that providers are bolstering their existing mental health services, and adapting delivery to means other than face-to-face, and these services are likely to be an important source of support for you during this period of isolation. My department is also talking with HE providers to consider how we can offer additional mental health support.
I am very aware that many of you will be worried about what this means for final exams.
The Office for Students will produce guidance shortly on practical you can complete your studies whilst ensuring quality and standards are maintained. This will cover teaching, continued learning and assessment during this difficult time.
It is important that providers support you and enable you to leave with qualifications that have real value and that reflects your hard work and allow you to progress. I can assure you that we are working closely with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) to ensure this happens.
On Tuesday 24 March, the Home Office updated their visa guidance to provide greater certainty for international higher education students and staff in the UK currently unable to return home due to COVID-19. This covers three main issues: visa extensions, in-country visa switching and distance learning.
No individual who is in the UK legally, but whose visa is due to expire, or has already expired, and who cannot leave because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19, will be regarded as an overstayer, or suffer any detriment in the future.
Anyone whose leave expired after the 24 January and who cannot leave the country because of travel restrictions or self-isolation will have their visas extended to 31 May 2020. Individuals must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team email to advise of their situation – please see contact details further down.
In-country visa switching
Individuals (students or staff) who cannot leave the UK due to travel restrictions or self-isolation and wish to stay in the UK in the long-term would ordinarily need to apply for a visa from their home country. Where individuals would normally be required to return to their country of residence to apply for a visa in a different category, they’ll now be able to apply from the UK to switch.
Tier 4 students are not normally permitted to undertake distance learning courses. However, due to the current exceptional circumstances, the Home Office will not consider it a breach of sponsor duties to offer distance learning to existing Tier 4 students in the UK or who have chosen to return overseas but wish to continue their current studies. Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship in these circumstances.
New international students who have been issued a Tier 4 visa but have been unable to travel to the UK are permitted to undertake distance learning and sponsorship does not need to be withdrawn.
New international students who have not yet applied for a visa but wish to commence a course by distance learning do not need to travel to the UK to do so and therefore do not require sponsorship under Tier 4.
Further information from the Home Office
Full details covering the above visa issues above can be found at the following link: www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-uk-visa-applicants-and-temporary-uk-residents
The Home Office’s Coronavirus Immigration Helpline remains open: 0800 678 1767 (open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm – calls are free of charge if made from within the UK). The Home Office asks that customers check gov.uk first as that is the central source of information, but if individuals remain concerned about their immigration status they can contact: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk.
Call for Volunteers
Universities are in the front line in the immediate challenge of the COVID-19 virus. There are many ways that universities will be able to contribute to the fight against the virus, including making their facilities and expertise available.
You may already know people with medical or healthcare knowledge who are involved in fighting COVID-19 and there will be opportunities for more people to do so. The Health Minister this week launched a call for volunteers to support vulnerable people to stay safe and well at home.
If you would like to get involved, you can sign up as a NHS volunteer here: https://www.goodsamapp.org/NHS
I would like to assure you that the Student Loans Company (SLC) is planning to make Term 3 tuition fee payments as scheduled and that you will continue to receive maintenance payments on the scheduled dates, whether or not campuses are closed or learning has moved online. We expect that providers will communicate clearly with residential students on rents for this period and administer accommodation provision in a fair manner.
I am also aware that some students are facing financial difficulties as a result of the current COVID-19 outbreak. The Government is working closely with the HE sector on a wide range of issues, and student wellbeing is at the heart of those discussions. It will be a matter for universities themselves to deal with individual students’ situations. We understand that most universities maintain hardship funds, which can be deployed where necessary. You should also be aware that if you are on a PAYE contract (e.g. part time student work), you may still get 80% of normal income. The guidance is here:
I hope that you find this helpful and informative. We will continue to work with the sector and with student representatives (Student Unions and the NUS). If you think that there is more that we can do, please contact the department.
Michelle Donelan MP
Minister of State for Universities
Update for applicants 24/03/2020 @ 09:00
Update for applicants 24/03/2020 @ 09:00
We have received some enquiries relating to the offer that we have made to you to study at University Centre Sparsholt and the recent government announcement that all exams (GCSE, A Levels, Technical and Vocational, and International Baccalaureate) have been cancelled for this academic year.
Whilst we understand that this announcement is very unsettling for you and you may be concerned about your place at University Centre Sparsholt, ultimately we do not expect this announcement to affect the students that enrol to study with us in September 2020.
The Department for Education has stated that;
“The calculated grades awarded will be formal grades, with the same status as grades awarded in any other year.”
“The grades awarded to students will have equal validity to the grades awarded in other years and should be treated in this way by universities and colleges. There is no reason for the usual admissions cycle to be disrupted.”
Consequently, once we receive the grades that you have been awarded we will confirm places via UCAS in exactly the same way that we do it every year. Please be reassured that for any applicant that does not achieve the grades required to meet the conditions of their offer, a review of that candidate using their grades awarded, prior achievement (such as GCSEs), their personal statement and their academic reference is conducted before a final decision on acceptance or rejection is made. Where possible we will try to be flexible but we must ensure that all students enrolling onto a degree programme have the academic capability to be successful.
The Department for Education has published guidance that you may find helpful;
Please contact the Admissions team at email@example.com if you have additional queries relating to your application or offer at University Centre Sparsholt.
Veterinary Nursing Science – 2020 Applicants
If you currently hold an offer with us to study FdSc Veterinary Nursing Science commencing in September 2020. A condition of your offer is that you provide evidence that you have completed 2 weeks of work experience within a veterinary practice.
Many of you will have already spent time in a veterinary practice and experienced the everyday life, and highs and lows of working with, and caring for animals. For those of you who may not yet have had this opportunity we urge you to consider these aspects to be sure that veterinary nursing is the most appropriate route for you and contact us if you would like to discuss alternative options.
In the current Covid 19 situation, we appreciate that it is likely to be very difficult to arrange and complete a work placement and we will be removing this condition from all of our offers for this degree programme.
Please contact the Admissions team at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have additional queries relating to your application or offer at University Centre Sparsholt.
20.03.20 Update @ 16:30
We understand that this is a challenging time for our students and staff and we have put the following plans in place to support learning and keep our community safe.
Changed Mode of Delivery of teaching, Learning and Support from Monday 23 March: In response to the announcement by the Secretary of State for Education and the Prime Minister on the evening of 18 March 2020, from Monday onwards, the college mode of delivery of teaching and learning will change to online delivery of all theoretical aspects of learning programmes and support of learners. University Centre colleagues have been planning for this, in the expectation that colleges and Universities would be instructed to close for physical face-to-face lectures. Online learning will commence from Tuesday 24 March 2020.
Student timetables: will continue on the normal days of delivery although the times of sessions may be altered. All lectures will be delivered online. UCS staff will be providing students with details of how to access their online learning each day, with the first of these instructions being given by 12pm on Friday 20 March 2020 and thereafter, at regular intervals.
Study Support: for students who receive individual study support with Rosie or Hannah, these sessions will still continue remotely, and they will be in contact with you to help set up your weekly sessions.
Online and IT/Mobile: the mode of delivery will include a range of online learning techniques, all of which can be accessed by computer/tablet/SMART mobile, and these techniques have been widely tested by colleagues to ensure they operate as expected. If any student is concerned about access to IT equipment, they should contact the college via, tutors in order we can evaluate if there is any support that might be offered.
Tutorials: these will continue as normal and colleagues at the college will provide information directly to students on these.
Wellbeing and Counselling: the Wellbeing team and College counselling service will continue to operate, albeit appointments will be provided online via email@example.com . Students currently receiving counselling will be contacted direct by the College counsellor to confirm appointment times.
Library and Learning Resources: the college library and learning resource centre will continue to be available and can be accessed using your fob.
Work Experience/Work Placement for University Centre Sparsholt Students: where there is a module which has work experience as a component part, your tutor will review this requirement and agree a plan to enable you to complete the module to ensure that your final grade is not compromised.
Exams and Assessment: the majority of exams will become time constrained assessments that you will complete on-line via L-Edge. It is our intention to do this during the already agreed exam period, we will provide additional information on this in the near future but the need for thorough revision remains the same as if you were sitting exams at Sparsholt.
University Centre Sparsholt applicants: you can still apply to University Centre Sparsholt for September 2020 and be made an offer of a place. We will keep in touch with existing applicants about arrangements for welcoming you to Sparsholt.
Halls of Residence: the vast majority of students will no longer require their Hall of Residence and as a consequence, the college is planning that most students should vacate their accommodation by Sunday, 22 March 2020, unless they have circumstances which require that they continue, in which case they should contact the college Residential Services Manager. The college will not charge for accommodation for the rest of the academic year for all students giving up their accommodation place by Sunday 22 March 2020. All students remaining in accommodation will continue to be charged accordingly.
We thank you for your support and patience during this time.
The DFE provides a daily update to educational establishments and we will continue to monitor this closely.
18.03.20 update @18.30
University Centre Sparsholt will remain open as normal for the rest of the week. In response to the Education Secretary’s statement this evening we are preparing our response and will share further details of our plans by 2pm tomorrow (Thursday 19 March).
We thank you for your support and patience during this time.
Please continue to follow government guidance. We would expect to be contacted by Public Health England in the event of any confirmed cases and will update this web page in that situation.
Any student who develops a “new, continuous” cough or high temperature should follow advice on 7-day self-isolation. The BBC has produced a helpful tool on the symptoms of COVID-19 which can be seen here. Public Health England has released new guidance for those staying at home because they have symptoms of the virus..
The fast-changing situation with Covid-19 is understandably raising a lot of concerns and questions amongst our HE community. University Centre Sparsholt is open as usual in accordance with advice from the Department for Education (DFE). Students and staff are self-isolating in accordance with government guidance. We would expect to be contacted by Public Health England in the event of any confirmed cases and will update this web page immediately.
As you may be aware, a number of UK universities have suspended face-to-face teaching but remain open, with teaching delivery for the remainder of this term being delivered online. The Office for Students and Department for Education have stated that their expectation is that teaching Higher Education continues under the current Public Health England (PHE) guidance. At University Centre Sparsholt, our preference is to continue with face-to-face teaching for as long as the Government and PHE recommend that schools, colleges and universities remain open.
A number of HE students have made contact and requested to leave college for health, family or government advice from the country where they live. In this situation, we require individual students to contact their tutors to discuss and we will provide guidance to individuals.
Currently, the planned exam period is expected to go ahead, but that may need to be amended if the Covid-19 situation continues to escalate. We are in frequent communication with the University of Portsmouth and we will be guided by them in all matters relating to assessment and examinations. We will keep you updated as soon as we have any information to share. Please be clear that all students will be required to meet the academic standards required to progress to either graduation or the next year of your degree programme. In the event that we are unable to facilitate exams in the specified time frame, you will be required to undertake alternative assessments which is why it is critical that you remain engaged in your studies and in contact with your teaching team in the coming weeks.
However, any student who develops a “new, continuous” cough or high temperature should follow advice on 7-day self-isolation and notify their absence through sickness in the usual way. Public Health England has released new guidance for those staying at home because they have symptoms of the virus. The BBC has produced a helpful tool on the symptoms of COVID-19 which can be seen here.