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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 30 Mar '20

COVID-19 – Advice for Postgraduate Study

We understand that you may be concerned about the ongoing impact of the coronavirus outbreak on your current or future studies.

The situation is developing rapidly, but we'll be doing our best to provide helpful and accurate information for people considering a Masters or PhD in 2020-21, as well as current postgraduate students.

We're also asking you to tell us what impact COVID-19 is having on your masters and PhD study plans – we'll use this information to help universities help prospective postgraduate students, like you. There's a chance to win a £50 Amazon voucher for taking part.

Below are the best answers to some key questions you may have. At the moment, the advice here primarily focusses on issues for students in the UK, but we'll try to include information on international issues where we can do so usefully and with clarity. We'll be updating this resource with more information, as we have it.

Which universities are shutting due to coronavirus?

Some countries have temporarily closed universities and colleges (along with schools) in order to help tackle to spread of the coronavirus. UK school closures will take place from tomorrow (Friday 20 March). Many UK universities have already taken steps to combat the spread of the coronavirus by replacing on-campus lectures and classes with online teaching. Some have also brought forward the end of the spring term.

Wonkhe are maintaining an updated list of universities where this has happened. UNESCO also have information on countries where education systems have been closed (though this includes schools as well as higher education).

How will university closures affect current postgraduate students?

Most institutions are allowing PhDs and other postgraduate research students to continue with their projects, but asking for supervisions to be arranged remotely where possible. Universities are also encouraging some students to plan for potential interruptions to their research, such as the inability to access campus facilities or undertake fieldwork. This might involve switching to writing up previous results rather than setting up new experiments or data collection activities.

Your university will be doing its best to safeguard your learning and keep you informed about any changes to timetables or assessments.

Students on Masters degrees and other postgraduate taught courses may be more directly affected by changes to teaching. Universities may replace remaining classes with online learning and set up systems for remotely supervising students' dissertaion work.

Will student loans be affected?

The Student Loans Company have released guidance for student loans during the COVID-19 outbreak. Here are the key points:

  • Current students will continue to receive loan instalments as normal, even if your university has suspended teaching or changed the timetable for your course. This has been officially confirmed by the Student Loans Company and applies to Masters loans and PhD loans as well as undergraduate loans.
  • Applications for postgraduate Masters loans and PhD loans for courses beginning in 2020-21 are still due to open in late June. Applications for undergraduate degree courses are already open and are being processed 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.

I've applied for a Masters / PhD – will my course still start next year?

Right now there's no reason to assume that the coronavirus will prevent the start of the 2020-21 academic year in the UK or elsewhere. However, it isn't yet clear whether there will be some temporary changes to the way courses are structured and delivered (see below).

What could change for postgraduate study in 2020-21?

Universities will run postgraduate courses in 2020-21. But they may do so in slightly different ways as advice on dealing with COVID-19 develops.

We're keeping our ear to the ground and talking to universities about their plans. Here are some of the possible changes for postgraduate degrees:

  • Universities may move to online learning for courses that are normally taught on campus. Many postgraduate degrees are already studied through distance learning and universities will already have some systems in place for this (some actually specialise in it). COVID-19 may mean that this kind of provision is temporarily extended to other Masters programmes and offered to more PhD students.
  • Some courses may start online and then move to on-campus teaching. Depending on when governments expect the COVID-19 outbreak to subside, universities may use online delivery for the first term of courses beginning in the autumn semester and then move students 'back' to campus in the spring. This might require some channges to course structure and timetabling for Masters, but would work well for PhDs which traditionally begin with students reviewing current scholarly literature – and don't necessarily require them to be on campus at this point.
  • Universities may consider starting courses in January. Again, this is something that already happens for many UK Masters and PhD degrees and would make sense for other programmes if a decision is made to delay the start of the academic year.

Please note that none of these options is confirmed yet. They are 'best guesses' based on what might be possible in different circumstances.

The most important thing to remember is that universities will do everything they can to help keep their prospective postgraduates informed, and so will we.

I'm applying for a Masters / PhD – will my application still be processed?

You can still apply for postgraduate study beginning next year as normal, even if the university you are applying to has temporarily suspended teaching. Applications can still be processed online, though interviews may currently be temporarily postponed, or carried out virtually.

We've put together some separate advice and encouragement for postgraduate applications right now.

Will the number of places on postgraduate courses be capped?

There has been some discussion of the possibility that student number controls might temporarily be introduced for undergraduate courses in the UK. This isn't likely for Masters and PhDs as postgraduate programmes already have relatively small cohorts of students and do not use a centralised application system.

Will university open days and events still take place?

UK universities are cancelling upcoming postgraduate open days as part of steps to reduce the potential spread of coronavirus on their campuses.

However, many of these are being replaced with virtual open days as well as specific admissions, applications and funding webinars. Our free newsletter will let you know of upcoming dates and times.

Details for all advertised events may not be immediately updated to reflect these changes and cancellations, so we recommend you check with institutions before booking travel or making other arrangements to attend.

I'm planning to study abroad next year, can I still apply for a student visa?

Some countries have closed borders or enacted other restrictions in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. These restrictions are temporary and do not currently affect student visa applications for next year. An exception applies to China, where UK visa application centres are closed for the time being.

You can find up-to-date information on the impact of coronavirus on international study in the UK on the UKCISA website.

I am a current international student but cannot attend my studies due to self-isolation, will my visa be withdrawn?

The UK Government has confirmed that students who are self-isolating due to suspected coronavirus will not have their sponsorship withdrawn due to the effect on their attendance record. See the Home Office website for more details.

Where can I find out more?

Information about the COVID-19 pandemic is developing quickly. We'll do 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]