Coronavirus – general information and guidance for members

Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new strain of coronavirus. The outbreak has been labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

The NHS website has more information about how coronavirus is spread and answers common questions about the virus. On Monday 23 March, the government imposed new restrictions, which are outlined below.

This page has been set up to bring together the different pieces of advice available for institutions and to provide a checklist, which we continue to update. Links are included where possible to enable further reading. The Office for Students have also produced some general guidance, which we advise you also refer to.

This page contains:

  1. General advice for institutions and GuildHE activity
  2. UPDATED Office for Students position
  3. Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do
  4. Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on isolation for residential educational settings
  5. Checklist (UPDATED)
  6. Working group on coronavirus
  7. Advice to those with symptoms 
  8. Self-Isolation Guidance  
  9. Travel guidance for the education sector
  10. Information on travel insurance implications
  11. Press Enquiries
  12. Immigration guidance
  13. Coronavirus and mental health
  14. Useful contacts

1. General advice for institutions and GuildHE activityGo to the top

This is clearly an ongoing and evolving situation that is obviously of great concern to many in the sector. It is recommended that you take note of the different areas of guidance covered below and take urgent steps to raise awareness amongst staff and students. It is also recommended that you consult our checklist and ensure that your institution’s current response mechanisms are functional. 

GuildHE is meeting regularly with colleagues from different government departments and are part of the sector stakeholder group. As such, we will be updating this page frequently and sending out regular updates. There has not been any formal notification, as of yet, that universities and colleges might be asked to close for any period of time, though this is now a distinct possibility. It would, therefore, be prudent to consider what this could mean for your institution and take steps that might help to alleviate possible disruption.

2. UPDATED Office for Students positionGo to the top

The OfS’s guidance includes information on the reduced regulatory burden due to the current situation.

3. Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to doGo to the top

Stay at home

  • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
  • Stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home

You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.

4. Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on isolation for residential educational settingsGo to the top

For students with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) in halls of residence:

Students in halls of residence who develop symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) should self-isolate in their current accommodation for 7 days, unless it is not possible to do so. Wherever possible, universities or colleges should offer their support to facilitate this. Students should discuss this with their university or college, and also with the manager of their halls if they are privately owned.

Staying at home for a prolonged period can be difficult, frustrating and lonely for some people. It can be particularly challenging if there is limited space or no access to a garden.

It is important to take care of mental as well as physical health and seek support if needed. Students can keep in touch with family and friends over the phone and on social media. There are also sources of support and information that can help, such as Every Mind Matters for adults, and Young Minds for young people.

Students should only return home if they are able to do so without using public transport. On returning home, the household should begin a period of whole household isolation for 14 days following PHE guidance.

Anyone who can return home should gain agreement from their university or college before doing this. Students living in privately owned halls should contact the manager of their accommodation to advise them of their plans.

More information can be found here.

5. ChecklistGo to the top

Listed below are some points that we advise you to consider:

1. How will you assure the quality and standards of online provision and assessments, particularly if this lasts for a protracted period of time?

2. Have you considered how travel restrictions and cancellations of all school exams and assessments will impact on how you administer admissions for the 20/21 cycle – and have you been in contact with your applicants to reassure them that different processes will be put in place?

3. Has you SMT been modelling the potential financial impact and discussing this with your Board of Governors? [If you are willing to share ball-park figures with Gordon at GuildHE that would be helpful for discussions with HM Treasury about ensuring financial sustainability of the sector] 

4. Is your institution considering virtual touch-points for students and staff during the self-isolation period to prevent feelings of loneliness? 

5. Are you in contact with UKRI and other research funders about any research grants and the possible need for extensions/additional funding?

6. Are there any potential regulatory considerations affecting international student recruitment that GuildHE should be discussing with the Home Office or others – such as language testing requirements, visa processing 

7. Have you thought about any particular ways your students, staff and facilities may be able to support your local, regional and professional communities through this period of time? 

8. Have you developed an institutional policy relating to international travel?

9. Are you liaising with your franchise and validation partners to discuss decision-making processes such as temporarily closing provision, moving examinations and the impact on academic regulations?

10. Have you considered support – such as halls accommodation – in the event of students not being able to return home for the holidays?

11. Have you considered the opportunities to deliver education or services online in the event of more significant disruption?

12. Are you monitoring possible increases in harassment of particular groups and communicating that any form of harassment of other students or staff will not be tolerated.

13. Have you considered your crisis communications plan and ensured that it is fully up-to-date?

14. Have you reviewed your Business Continuity Plan in light of the situation to consider institutional responses to different scenarios?

15. Have you shared the Public Health Information advice and information so that it is readily available to students and staff? Are you providing any information, yet, to parents?

16. Do students and staff know who to contact if they are worried about an outbreak? 

17. Have you set up a response group and is it meeting regularly? Does it include a student representative?

6. Working group on coronavirusGo to the top

GuildHE is actively engaged with the sector working-group on coronavirus. Sector bodies have now agreed with DfE and other departments that the increasing number of issues we need to address mean it makes sense to split our work on coronavirus into 8 work-streams: 

  • International students (recruitment and current student issues)
  • Regulations and standards
  • UK admissions
  • Financial sustainability
  • Student and staff welfare
  • Communications, information, stakeholder management and enquiries
  • Research
  • Engaging with the community

GuildHE is represented on all the work-streams.

7. Advice to those with symptoms Go to the top

Stay at home for 7 days if you have either:

  • a high temperature
  • a new continuous cough

This will help to protect others while you are infectious.

Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital, unless necessary.

You do not need to contact NHS 111 to tell them you’re staying at home.
People who are self-isolating with mild symptoms will not be tested.

8. Self-Isolation Guidance Go to the top

The NHS has also produced guidance on self-isolation:  

9. Travel guidance for the education sectorGo to the top

This guidance is for students and staff in the education sector planning to travel in the UK or overseas, and for those who are already overseas.

Section 1 of the guidance relates to under 18s and Section 2 covers matter relating to over 18s and specifically covers higher education, including Erasmus+.

10. Information on travel insurance implicationsGo to the top

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has produced information on travel insurance implications following the COVID-19 outbreak. 

11. Press enquiriesGo to the top

If any of your academics have particular relevant expertise and are interested in engaging with the press, please get in touch with

12. Immigration guidanceGo to the top

Michelle Donelan in her letter confirmed that on Tuesday 24 March, the Home Office updated their visa guidance to provide greater certainty for international higher education students and staff in the UK currently unable to return home due to COVID-19. This covers three main issues: visa extensions, in-country visa switching and distance learning.

a) Visa extensions

No individual who is in the UK legally, but whose visa is due to expire, or has already expired, and who cannot leave because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19, will be regarded as an overstayer, or suffer any detriment in the future. Anyone whose leave expired after the 24 January and who cannot leave the country because of travel restrictions or self-isolation will have their visas extended to 31 May 2020. Individuals must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team email ( to advise of their situation.

Home Office’s Coronavirus Immigration Helpline remains open: 0800 678 1767 (open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm – calls are free of charge if made from within the UK).

b) In-country visa switching

Individuals (students or staff) who cannot leave the UK due to travel restrictions or self-isolation and wish to stay in the UK in the long-term would ordinarily need to apply for a visa from their home country. Where individuals would normally be required to return to their country of residence to apply for a visa in a different category, they’ll now be able to apply from the UK to switch.

c) Distance learning

Tier 4 students are not normally permitted to undertake distance learning courses. However, due to the current exceptional circumstances, the Home Office will not consider it a breach of sponsor duties to offer distance learning to existing Tier 4 students in the UK or who have chosen to return overseas but wish to continue their current studies. Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship in these circumstances. New international students who have been issued a Tier 4 visa but have been unable to
travel to the UK are permitted to undertake distance learning and sponsorship does not need to be withdrawn.New international students who have not yet applied for a visa but wish to commence a course by distance learning do not need to travel to the UK to do so and therefore do not require sponsorship under Tier 4.

13. Coronavirus and mental healthGo to the top

During this time where many of us are limiting social contact, it is important to preserve our wellbeing and mental health. There is useful guidance to assist with best practice for working from home and staying connected. Please continue to use the relevant Jiscmail lists and channels of communication if there are any questions or comments that may be widely useful to the network. If you would like GuildHE to facilitate a virtual HR meeting ahead of the one planned in June then please email:
Some useful links:

1) Mind

2) Leapers

14. Useful Contacts:Go to the top

Coronavirus Immigration Helpline

The helpline will be open from 9am on 18 February 2020

Telephone: 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)


Department for Education Helpline

The helpline is open between 0800 and 1800 Monday to Friday.

GuildHE lead

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