To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps the Government is taking to (a) support international students studying in the UK during the covid-19 pandemic and (b) make an assessment of the potential merits of (i) requesting providers to waive third-term tuition fees for those students and (ii) extending Tier 4 visas for those students.
29 June 2020
The department has been working closely with the higher education (HE) sector to ensure it provides essential support for international students who have decided to remain in the UK or have been unable to travel home due to COVID-19. Universities have an obligation to ensure that students have continued accommodation and access to essential services in the UK for the duration of their stay.
We are pleased to see that the sector is making every effort to enable students to continue their studies – including moving learning online either in the UK or in a student's home country – so that their teaching and assessment can proceed, and that universities are offering a range of support to students, including support for catering and cleaning.
The government also recognises that many students are facing, or will face, additional mental health challenges caused by the global outbreak. Many HE providers are bolstering their existing mental health services and adapting delivery to means other than face-to-face. Providers have responded quickly to transform mental health and wellbeing services, showing resourcefulness, and there are many examples of good practice.
The government has worked closely with the Office for Students (OfS) to help clarify that providers in England can draw upon existing student premium funding to provide hardship funds and support disadvantaged students impacted by COVID-19 and international students qualify for this. Providers are able to use the funding – worth around £23 million per month for April, May, June and July – towards student hardship funds, including mental health support.
In addition, the OfS recently announced the Student Space platform, which seeks to bridge gaps in mental health support for students arising from this unprecedented situation. Funded with up to £3 million by the OfS and led by Student Minds, it is designed to work alongside existing mental health services.
Universities are autonomous and responsible for setting their own fees. In deciding to keep charging full fees, universities will of course want to ensure that they can continue to deliver courses which are fit for purpose and help students progress their qualifications. Whether or not an individual student is entitled to a refund of fees will depend on the specific contractual arrangements between the provider and student.
The government is applying discretion under the current circumstances to ensure international students are not negatively impacted if they find themselves in a position where they cannot comply with certain visa rules. On 16 June, the Home Office updated their visa guidance to provide greater certainty for international HE students in the UK impacted by COVID-19; this guidance includes the latest information for those who might have questions around visa expiry, switching visa category within the UK and distance learning. It also provides reassurances regarding distance learning, confirming that students will be permitted to study partially online for the 2020/21 academic year, provided they transition to face-to-face learning as soon as circumstances allow, and that that those studying by distance/blended learning will be eligible to apply for the graduate route provided they are in the UK by 6 April 2021 (and meet other requirements of the route).