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 by Ben Taylor
, posted on 23 Sep '20

Coronavirus – Advice & Guidance for Postgraduate Study

Coronavirus has impacted society in many ways, from healthcare and the economy to travel and entertainment. And, of course, it’s also had an effect on how we study, with universities around the world adapting quickly to our new circumstances and offering online or blended learning options to students.

The good news is that universities are still offering the same wide range of Masters and PhD opportunities as well as MBAs, PGCEs and other courses. Many programmes are also being made more flexible for UK and international students.

But, due to the speed with which the COVID-19 situation can change, it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of how postgraduate study might be affected by the coronavirus and its impact on universities. This blog will answer some of the questions you may have about studying a Masters or PhD during coronavirus.

Coronavirus and postgraduate funding

Despite the disruption caused by COVID-19, funding schemes are still running largely as normal, whether the programme in question is online, in-person or a combination of the two.

Are postgraduate loans affected?

The Student Loans Company has released detailed guidance for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as Scotland. These are the main points to bear in mind:

  • Applications for postgraduate Masters loans and PhD loans are open as normal.
  • Repayments for student loans aren’t affected by the coronavirus. You will still only repay when you are earning over the income threshold for your loan.

Universities will also have discretion as to how they record your attendance. You should still be able to receive your postgraduate loan if your course switches to online study, provided you are continuing to engage with your course. It’s best to check this with your university.

Are PhD studentships affected?

The main source of UK Government funding for PhDs is UK Research and Innovation, which funds generous studentships for successful applicants across a wide range of subject areas.

Applications for UKRI-funded PhD projects are opening as normal, with deadlines extended for some funding opportunities. You can find out more about applying for Research Council funding in our dedicated guides:

If you’re currently on a PhD studentship and your work has been disrupted by the pandemic, you may be able to apply for a grant extension.

For more information, please read UKRI’s guidance for researchers affected by the coronavirus.

Will postgraduate students get a fee discount?

The UK Government hasn’t announced an overall reduction in tuition fees for postgraduate students, but it’s well worth checking with your prospective university to see what their current policy is. Some institutions are offering alumni discounts, while others are providing coronavirus-specific reductions in fees for people affected by the crisis.

We recommend consulting our guides to university funding for Masters and PhD programmes to find the best places to start looking for these kinds of discount.

Outside of the UK, the Dutch government is offering a €535 refund to students beginning a Masters at a research university between September 2020 and January 2021.

Chevening Scholarships and coronavirus

Applications for the 2021-22 Chevening programme are open as usual, with a deadline of 3 November 2020.

If you’re a current Chevening scholar and decide to return home early, you’ll still be able to receive your stipend if you’re completing your course by distance learning. You’ll just need to sign a ‘remote learning agreement’. Similarly, if travel restrictions mean that you can’t travel to the UK for the beginning of your Masters, you’ll still be eligible for Chevening funding.

Coronavirus and January start dates

Whether you’re an international student whose travel plans have been disrupted, or someone whose job circumstances and graduate career plans have recently changed, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to begin your Masters or PhD in January 2021.

Luckily, universities are keen to offer postgraduate students as much flexibility as possible when it comes to start dates. In fact, we currently list over 8,000 Masters programmes that begin in January. It’s also fairly common for universities to allow PhD students to start in January.

Coronavirus and entry tests

Thankfully, after some initial disruption English language tests and graduate entry tests are beginning to return to normal, with more and more test centres open around the world.

However, if you can’t attend in person then you’ll usually be able to take an online version of the exam in question.

For example, if you need to prove your English language proficiency as part of the entry requirements for a programme, you could book:

Similarly, it’s possible to take online versions of the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Virtual university open days

COVID-19 may have made it difficult to visit universities in person for open days, but institutions around the world have adjusted quickly to these new circumstances by offering students the chance to attend virtual open days.

These events have lots in common with traditional open days, with opportunities to chat online to academic staff and current students, as well as to attend webinars on funding, postgraduate study and more.

We have a whole section on our website dedicated to these virtual open days, which are completely free to attend.

Coronavirus and student visas

The UK Government has made several changes to the visa system to make things easier for students currently studying a Masters or PhD. These are the main updates:

  • If you’re unable to attend university due to being ill or self-isolating, this won’t affect your sponsorship
  • If you haven’t been able to travel to the UK due to coronavirus restrictions, you can begin your programme via distance learning without this having an effect on your visa

Most visa application centres (VACs) are now open, so where possible you’ll need to apply in person for a visa at your nearest location. However, coronavirus restrictions mean that your VAC is closed, you can currently apply online (this will be subject to review at the end of November 2020).

For more information, please read the UK Government’s visa guidance.

Where can I find out more?

We’re doing our best to provide as much help and reassurance as we can for postgraduates and other students, with regular updates to this blog.

We also recommend you consult the following sources of information and guidance:

If you have specific questions or concerns you think we can help with, you can contact our team by emailing editor[at]findaphd.com.