Social distancing at universities in September 2020


Lumos Education reflects on the implications of social distancing on university campuses.


If you are planning to start or return to university in September 2020, the prospect of a socially distanced year can be worrying. However, most universities continue to advise their current and prospective students on how they expect to function. Universities aim to provide everyone with the best possible experience, while reducing the risk of Covid-19. In this fast-moving situation, the advice on social distancing at universities is changing all the time.


The majority of universities, including Cambridge University, have stated that lectures will continue online next academic year.  However, seminars, supervisions and individual tuition will continue in person wherever possible. If individual tuition or seminars cannot be arranged person, the aim is to schedule via real-time face-to-face technology. In fact, according to a Universities UK poll, 97% of universities say that they will offer you some face to face tuition. This is good news! 

Halls of Residence and Bubbles

Some, such as Sheffield University, have stated that students will be placed in ‘bubbles’ within their accommodation.  This means that you may live with others from the same course, reducing the contact that you have beyond that small group. We expect other universities to take the ‘bubble’ approach.  Imperial College, London, has announced some changes such as reducing twin-occupancy rooms to one occupant.  Imperial has also offered 24 week contracts to students who may not be able to arrive in October.

Social life

Your social life is a huge part of your university experience. One of the implications of social distancing at universities is that your social life may look unusual for a little while. Universities have acknowledged that freshers’ week will have to be run in a different way, in order to maintain social distancing.  For example, Oxford University has confirmed that their ‘Freshers’ Fair’ will be virtual. However, 87% of universities  still plan to offer in-person fitness and well-being activities in your first term. This is encouraging.  Especially as freshers’ week is an essential part getting to know your fellow students. We hope that your university of choice will find a solution that allows you to make those all-important connections with your peers.

International students

If you are an international student and unable to travel, universities will help.  St Andrews has announced that they will provide those unable to travel to the UK to begin the new term on 14 September, with comprehensive remote tuition and a smooth transition to the classroom once travel restrictions are lifted. Oxford University has also confirmed that they will provide accommodation during holidays, if it is impractical for you to fly home.

Should you defer your university place until 2021?

With university fees soaring, it’s understandable that you don’t want to pay for an online university experience.  Whether you defer or not, will depend on your circumstances and whether you feel you could make use of a year out.  It’s also unlikely that not all universities will allow you to keep your place due to the high number of students expected to take a gap year. Alhough they may take individual circumstances into account. Before making this important decision, you should ask yourself what you would achieve from deferring your place.

Many details remain unclear about exactly how student life will function in 2020/21. However, most universities have announced that their courses will consist of blended learning (a combination of online and face-to-face teaching) and that students will be welcomed back to campus at the start of term.

While the university experience will certainly be different, Alistair Jarvis, of UUK (Universities UK) has assured students that “Universities are committed to providing an engaging academic and social experience for all, while ensuring the safety and welfare of the whole university community.”

Covid-19 has thrown us all in a time of uncertainly. You be may be feeling unsure about whether to take up your university place. What is certain is that universities are working hard to provide the best possible experience for you.  Universities themselves are in a stressful situation, trying to hold on to their students, whilst providing the best service possible. And in this fast-changing situation, you may find that things looks very different in September.

For support and advice on your UK university applications, including to Oxford and Cambridge, please contact us  We provide help with drafting personal statements, interview technique and selecting the best university course for you.