Weekly news roundup: UK unis face mass testing challenges and NZ launch flexible pathways for international students

By Nicole Wootton-Cane• Last updated: Oct 30, 2023
Weekly news roundup: UK unis face mass testing challenges and NZ launch flexible pathways for international students
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In a week that has seen the UK become the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine, there’s some hope in the air for higher education leaders. 

A new QS study has shown that the introduction of a potential coronavirus vaccine has made at least 21% of prospective international students open to starting their studies earlier.

The news is also likely to have come at a welcome time for domestic students in the UK, who are likely submitting their university applications in the near future. 

However, as mass testing begins on English campuses, we are reminded of the challenges associated with getting any large group of people to do anything - even if it is for the collective good. 

Here’s your weekly global higher education news roundup. 

UK universities face challenges as mass testing begins 

Starting this week, students are beginning to travel home for the Christmas holidays after being tested for COVID.

English universities have been told by the government to test students twice before giving them an allotted day to travel.

The scheme is designed to stop the spread of coronavirus that we saw student movement contribute to earlier this year.

However, the tests aren’t compulsory, and not every single university is taking part. 

Final-year French and Italian student Isabella Jewell said that she isn’t travelling home on her allotted day, as her university left it too late to open booking for tests, and she was forced to book her train home before it got too expensive.

She said she didn’t want to head home in early December, as it would be “hard to study at home without a library”.

English universities have been told to stagger students’ return in January in an attempt to prevent a spike in COVID-19 infections.

The guidance says that those who need to be on campus for practical courses should return first, with all other students returning after 25 January. 

It also says that students should be tested upon their return.

However, it’s likely too little too late for many students, who will have already booked their travel arrangements for the new year. 

And some good news for the UK’s higher education sector, as it overtakes Australia and other anglophone countries as the most likely target of international student referrals. 

A survey of around 300 education agents shows that students value the UK’s current open-door policy to international students, as well as their post-arrival safety arrangements. 

US universities refuse to return to pass/fail grading systems

In the United States, debates about fair grading during the pandemic rage on. 

Many universities issued pass/fail grading policies when COVID-19 first hit last spring. But universities are being less lenient this semester, despite student uproar. 

However, some institutions say that, whilst they want to support students, simply allowing them a pass/fail grade on every course could do more harm than good. Pass/fail grades can affect admission for postgraduate programmes and student scholarship eligibility - so whilst students may gain from it in the short-term, it can have long-term implications.

The discussion has arisen as US students begin to take their final exams, many of them remotely. It’s a debate that is sure to cross over into the UK once January exams begin - whilst pass/fail courses are less common across the pond, the issue of how students get fairly graded is ever-present. 

New Zealand launch flexible pathways for international students

The UK-based pathway provider NCUK has joined with Education New Zealand to increase access to the country’s education whilst borders remain closed. 

The new scheme will begin in 2021, with students able to access three NCUK pathway qualifications which can be taken in-person or online. 

New Zealand currently has one of the strictest border policies in the world, with only returning PhD students currently allowed to reenter the country. The scheme will therefore allow greater flexibility for students looking to gain a qualification from a New Zealand institution.

Chris Hipkins, New Zealand’s minister of education, called the scheme “groundbreaking”.

“The government recognises that international education will play a vital role in the recovery of the New Zealand economy from Covid-19,” he said.

“This groundbreaking initiative gives students around the world more choice and flexibility when it comes to how and when they gain a high-quality New Zealand education.”

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