COVID-19 Impact on the UK Education System

COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the education system in the UK (including school-level education and university-level education). Schools and colleges are forced to teach online and take online assessments. University offers for students and job opportunities for recent graduates are also greatly impacted. Naturally, the UK’s educational institutions have taken certain steps to mitigate these impacts and be better prepared for the uncertain future. These include:

  • Educational institutions are shifting to online teaching and assessments. Many universities decided to close a part of their campus facilities at least and shift to technology-enabled distance learning. Since campus had to be closed during the lockdown, the scenario regarding final exams is not yet clear.

If final exams are eliminated, students counting on the end-of-year results to bring up their performance scores will be at a disadvantage. If they are delayed indefinitely (until the campus is safe to resume all its functions), the graduation period will get extended. Since it is not clear how long the exams are delayed, it may affect students’ interest in learning or pursuing the course.

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Online assessments seem like the best answer to the problem. But it is not fool-proof. The stress of corona cases, living in isolation, and non-accessibility of campus facilities like library and labs has directly affected students’ preparation. Students from low-income backgrounds might not have a quiet place to study. Other students may not have the right gadgets or internet connection to attend online lectures or classes. Then, there are chances of cheating in exams as students have full access to their course material (and other resources) at home.

Many universities are allowing more time for students to complete their exam if they do not have proper gadgets. Others are flexible enough to allow different ways to submit the exam. Technically, it is not possible or feasible to stop students from checking out their course material in a short period. Hence, the exams are understood to be open-book tests which are based on using the concepts learned in the class, instead of memorizing things and recalling them during the examination.

  • University admission norms are changing. Due to the Corona outbreak, A-level exams have been cancelled this year. Students will receive grades on their teachers’ evaluation of their performance based on:
  • their previous performance,
  • evaluation of their coursework and assignments, and
  • their participation in class.

Traditionally, universities select students based on their grades in A-level and equivalent exams. Since most of the students have already applied for entry in September 2020 academic session, it is believed that they will be screening the students based on the new and elaborate norms for grade prediction.

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It is highly likely that marginal students may find it easier to get an entry into the prestigious institutions because a steep fall in the numbers of international students is expected this year. While this is a good opportunity for students, academic experts predict that this may result in lower-quality of students in universities which may impact their reputation in the long-term.

More power to the teachers while grading students in the qualifying examinations, and university accepting students that are not up-to-the-mark may have long-term effects on the job market and employability of future graduates. To counter this, some universities are mulling over conducting entry tests of their own. Others might take into account the GCSE scores of students along with their A-level coursework performance to have a fair chance of choosing better candidates.

  • Employment opportunities in different fields are changing rapidly. The COVID-19 crisis has severely affected the economy and pushed the world into a global recession. The virus is still evolving, social distancing is not very effective, and government policies are unable to counter this downslide right now. It means that future earnings of graduates entering the labour market shortly will be uncertain.

This uncertainty may see more students go back to school or stay longer in universities to upgrade their skills and knowledge and be able to grab better jobs. Until 2015, the government used to cap the number of domestic students who could enrol in UK universities. If the competition for university courses increase, this cap may get re-introduced.

The number of foreign students may see a sharp decline though due to travel restrictions in these times. We all know that international students’ contribution to the university revenue is quite significant (especially in prestigious and most sought-after institutions). Hence, universities may either need to increase their fees for home students or cut down costs and make budgetary changes.

COVID-19 crisis has exposed the fault lines in the UK education system. Effective policy measures are needed to help the institutions and students in the short, medium, and long term to mitigate the effects of such emergencies in the future. Technology is certainly going to play a big role in this transition – and online teaching and student learning modes are expected to be the new ‘normal’ for educational institutions.

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