First of all, I’d like to wish all our members across the UK a happy and healthy New Year. I hope that you managed to get some downtime over the Christmas break. Even if you were not able to see family or friends, I hope that you were still able to switch off – literally and figuratively.

I understand how difficult it might be to do this, when information and guidance kept coming from government right up until the end of December. Just in time to go under the tree with the presents, we received some guidance from the DfE on student finance eligibility for the 2021/22 academic year for EU students. This guidance was followed in early January with some FAQs. However, we are still waiting for the fee regulations and accompanying guidance to be published, and members will of course be the first to know our analysis, through the usual online channels. We’ll also be offering online sessions in due course, but it’s important that we only offer these when we have enough information to provide.

An end-of-year flurry was inevitable given the 31 December transition date and, between Christmas and New Year the sector also had to process the news that the UK would no longer be participating in the Erasmus+ programme – and that the UK government’s new Turing scheme would no longer include an exchange element to bring EU students to UK universities.

I can assure you that, with all of the recent and upcoming changes, the advice and training team at UKCISA are hard at work reviewing the latest announcements and identifying what they mean for members and international students.

As well as the new Graduate Route visa concession for the January starts, UKCISA was delighted to learn this week that it looks like many of the recommendations we submitted to government in September last year on the development of the Graduate Route have been approved by ministers. This includes the welcome news that students on articulation pathways will be eligible, which is incredibly important for the success of the route. We also understand that a course 12 months or less in length must have been studied in the UK in its entirety (subject to the dynamic Covid concessions, of course). For courses over 12 months long, the final 12 months must be spent in the UK unless on study abroad or other accepted absence. Lower-level integrated courses will be accepted for the Graduate Route, as will any qualifying course that is a change from the course on the CAS but was permitted under the study condition (including postgraduate courses longer than original course).

It also looks likely that part-time students will be eligible for the Graduate Route and that 9-month degrees will be eligible (although students will have to be in UK for the duration of degree, as with articulation pathways).

Unfortunately it seems that ministers have decided that those on the doctorate extension scheme (DES) will not be eligible.

While this is good news on the whole, there is still work to be done on the Graduate Route, including further discussion about the reporting requirements and how to handle self-employment, so we will reconvene the sector representatives who fed into the initial recommendations in February to look at the developments of the Route in more detail.  A huge thanks to all the individuals, institutions and organisations who have contributed to this work to date.

2021 has started at the same frenetic pace that 2020 ended, with DfE guidance for international students’ travel in and out of the UK, and the announcement of the PCR test requirement, to help manage the current wave of the pandemic.  While it will continue to be challenging in the short term, the progress of vaccination across the UK and other nations give us all hope that we can return to something more like normality later this year. In the meantime, we are all in this together. UKCISA and its members are a resilient and caring community, and I am reassured by the knowledge that we are all here to support each other in these tough times.