uk university crisis how to bring international students in safely

The UK university sector is under direct threat. 20% (approx. 0.5 million) of UK university students come from abroad: second in the world for foreign students after the US. International student tuition fees produce a profit of 2.4 billion GBP a year, and it is vital income for universities to support their underfunded academic research. In the worst case scenario, it is believed that apart from Oxford and Cambridge universities, the remainder of the UK universities could become insolvent after the COVID-19 pandemic. What options do universities have to reduce the economic destruction? How can they offer confidence to international students as well as to the local communities? How can universities bring international students in safely? goPassport may be the solution.

uk university crisis how to bring international students in safely

The economic impact doesn’t stop at the institutions; the ripple effect touches all businesses supporting the international education industry. Student accommodation, visa services, entrance language exams, study abroad expositions and agencies, and the local businesses operating in university towns are all under pressure.

Despite universities offering plan B of remote virtual education to international students, students are reluctant to pay substantial tuition fees to attend online classes from their home countries. For those who are still considering studying abroad, some of them are uncomfortable with how the UK government has been handling COVID-19 so far and are worried about their health and safety should they return to the UK. Some students are considering to postpone their study for one year or other destinations. If UK universities lose international students for the coming academic year, the economic effect will actually be longer term than just one year of income. For example, if an undergraduate student decides to pursue their degree in another less affected country. That takes away a minimum 3-year economic contribution of that student, as well as the economic benefits the student brings to society after graduating.

So how can a UK university stand out from its peers in a pandemic situation? The key appears to be being able to offer class-room teaching in a safe and supportive environment. This will require students to be able to travel in, be accommodated safely, continue to be healthy throughout the academic years and be able to travel home for semester breaks. Along side that remains a potential threat of second or subsequent waves of virus outbreak.

goPassport is an end to end real-time platform which ensures safe international travel for nations, universities and corporates. Here is how goPassport can help:

  1. Prove students are fit to travel before their journey begins to minimise the risk of bringing the virus into the country and onto campus
  2. Provide up-to-date health & safety information to individuals, to keep students safe and compliant to national, regional and local requirements
  3. Track and trace students for a given period of time before, during and after their travel journeys, to ensure they are compliant to local health and safety regulations
  4. React and issue alerts quickly if a student contracts the virus, and to identify those potentially affected automatically and efficiently
  5. Prove that students are healthy to relieve any concerns from accommodation hosts
uk univerisities - how to bring international students in safely

Preventing virus spread by cancelling physical classes for an entire academic year is an extreme measure and it brings massive disruption to how education has been conducted for many years. Even though some classes can be delivered entirely online, the physical interactions between students and teachers are irreplaceable. Knowing fellow students are healthy within campus definitely brings comfort to both local and international students, staff and local communities.

Inevitably the number of international students wanting to start an academic year in 2020 will be reduced given the current COVID-19 situation in the UK. The question is by how much, and if a university has enough cash flow to survive this storm. Universities and governments have options such as goPassport to consider that may reduce the on-going economic impact of COVID-19, and allow universities to bring international students in safely.

Frances Luk
Managing Partner UK & Nordics, AlphaZetta


[1] UK universities stand to lose billions if the pandemic keeps foreign students away; Author:Stephen Beard;[2] The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a crisis in the UK universities; Author: Peter Dolton, Professor of Economics, Sussex University;[3] International students are torn on whether to study in Britain as universities contemplate virtual classrooms; Author: Shafi Musaddique;[4] Coronavirus: Should I go to university this year?; Author: Ian Westbrook;