Published on 15 April 2020
Dear International Students,
As Universities Minister, I wanted to write to you to provide reassurances that we have taken action to keep you safe and to mitigate the worst effects of COVID-19 on you and your education.
The COVID-19 outbreak is an unprecedented situation and poses significant challenges to higher education, its students and staff in virtually every country around the world. Government is adhering closely to the most up-to-date scientific advice, which is available publicly online. As this changes, our advice will change to match the level of the threat. Using this scientific advice, as well as Public Health England guidance, we are working closely with the higher education sector on a wide range of issues and your wellbeing is, and will remain, at the heart of those discussions.
I want to emphasise to you that our Government not only recognises, but also appreciates, the positive contribution that you and all international students provide to the UK – socially, culturally and economically. You enrich the university experience for all students, bringing greater diversity to university and college campuses, as well as fresh ideas and new perspectives. This cultural exchange helps build life-long
friendships, as well as laying the foundations for future networks, and important business, political and diplomatic bridges.
We want you to enjoy your time in the UK and to get the most out of studying at our world-class universities. To mitigate the worst effects of the virus on your student experience, we are working closely with universities and I am pleased to see that the sector is making every effort to enable you to continue your studies – including moving learning online either in the UK or in your home country – so that your teaching and assessment can proceed.
Our first priority, however, is your health, safety and wellbeing. I have been discussing with universities the additional support that they can give to both domestic and international students. I wrote to universities in England on 20 and 26 March, urging them to prioritise the needs of all students who remain at their university accommodation. This includes the large number of international students who have decided to stay in the UK or cannot travel home. They have a duty of care to you, which they recognise and will carry out. This includes continuing to provide accommodation if you cannot travel home or have no alternative residence. Universities will also offer a range of support services to students, including support for catering and cleaning, and providing support for mental health which is a key consideration for me.
Many providers are bolstering their existing mental health services, and adapting delivery to means other than face-to-face. I would encourage you to stay in touch with your provider’s student support and welfare teams, as these services are likely to be an important source of support during this period of social distancing. If you are struggling with your mental health at this time, you can also access online resources from Public Health England, along with online support from the NHS and mental health charity Mind http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/student-life/about-student-mental-health/. The Government recently announced a £5m-grant for mental health, to be administered by Mind, to support those people, including students, who require this support.
In addition to support from your university, the UK emergency services are also here for you. They are here for you as much as they are for other UK residents. Our National Health Service can provide you with specific COVID-19 advice through a new COVID-19 online service www.111.nhs.uk/covid-19 or, if you cannot get online, by calling 111. The police are also here to keep you safe, with new public health regulations that will support officers in enforcing measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
I also want to be underline that both the UK Government and the higher education sector are clear that you must feel welcome and safe here – on and off campus. There is no place in our society – including within higher education – for harassment, discrimination or racism. You have a right to access education and be in this country without fear of harassment and discrimination. We want to ensure that everyone with the talent and potential to succeed in higher education has the opportunity to do so, regardless of nationality, or ethnic or national origins, and we will not tolerate xenophobia of any kind.
I recognise that some of you will be concerned about your visa status. That is why the Government will be applying discretion under current circumstances to ensure you are not negatively impacted if you find yourself in a position where you cannot comply with certain visa rules. Full guidance for those affected by changes to UK immigration and borders due to COVID-19 can be found at www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-immigration-and-borders. This guidance includes the latest information for those of you who might have questions around visa expiry, switching visa category within the UK, distance learning and working-hour restrictions for student doctors and nurses. If you have concerns about your visa status you should email the Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Immigration Help Centre at CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk.
The latest Government advice is that you should only leave your home or accommodation in the UK for very limited purposes: www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance. If you live in university-owned, or privately-owned, university accommodation, universities will do all they can to ensure that you have access to support, food and other provisions. To protect yourself and others you should adhere to Government advice while in the UK. However, if you are considering returning to your home country, please seek advice from your country’s embassy or consulate in the UK. You should not travel if you have symptoms of COVID-19 yourself, or if you are self-isolating for 14 days because someone else in your household / shared accommodation has had COVID-19 symptoms. Symptoms of COVID-19 include a high temperature or a new, continuous cough.
Whether you have already travelled home, have decided to remain in the UK, or cannot travel home, I understand that you will be concerned about what you should do now. I have therefore included as an annex to this letter all the Government’s latest guidance, as well as a list of resources and contacts available should you have questions or concerns.
Our world-leading universities, which thrive on being global institutions, will always be open to international students. Both Government and the higher education sector are working together to ensure existing rules and processes are as flexible as possible under the current unprecedented circumstances to ensure that those of you planning to study in the UK from Autumn 2020 can do so.
We will continue to work with the sector and with student representatives and do all we can to keep you safe.
Michelle Donelan MP
Minister of State for Universities
Read the full letter for international students from the Minister of State for Universities, which includes 2 annexes that provide Government guidance during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Annex A includes the Government response to COVID-19 and what this means for you, information on our emergency services, overseas travel, accommodation, mental health and other university- or course-related issues.
Annex B gives information on useful resources available through the UK Government, British Council, UKCISA, Universities UK and Universities UK International.