Charting the impact of COVID-19 on UK admissions and recruitment

[This article was first published on 17th March 2020, but is being updated regularly. Last update: 15th June 2021. The latest updates are shown in blue.]

A summary of school closures and exam arrangements.

Throughout 2020 news was dominated by the spread of coronavirus and the subsequent disruption. School and university closures and the switch to online learning have had a significant impact on students, particularly those sitting exams and / or due to graduate.

At Ecctis, since March 2020 we have been tracking delays to exams at secondary and higher education level as they are announced. We have compiled all of the information we gathered on assessment at secondary level in 2020 for over 120 different qualifications into a comprehensive report: COVID-19: Guide to International Secondary Assessment in 2020. The report also analyses the different approaches to assessment and looks at the effects on student performance and grading.

In 2021, education globally continues to be affected by the pandemic, so we are continuing to track school closures and changes to exams. A summary by country can be found below.

As of 15th June 2021 UNESCO found that in 19 countries schools and universities are closed at a national level due to COVID-19. Many others have partial school closures, with a combination of in-person and remote learning in place.


Afghanistan: Students returned to school in January with hybrid in-person and distance learning measures, which will continue to until the end of the academic year in June. School exams took place in February/March. The university entrance exam is being held in three phases.

Bangladesh: Schools began to reopen from 13th June, with some students only attending one a week initially. Universities remain closed. It was previously announced that 2021 Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams will be held in July / August 2021 and the syllabus will be adapted. Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exams were held in February. Cambridge International A level and O level exams will not go ahead. Universities may reopen in late May, but may choose to delay further.

Cambodia: Schools are currently closed. Grade 12 exams due to take place in January were cancelled and all students automatically given a pass grade.

China: Schools and universities reopened in a staggered way throughout March following the new year break and are now fully open. Some university students are starting to receive vaccinations. The Gaokao was held on 7th June.

Hong Kong: The return to school after the winter break was delayed until 12th February. Since Chinese New Year, the Education Bureau has allowed for up to one-third of students to return to school for face-to-face lessons, with the rest participating in online learning. The 2021 HKDSE exams took place from 23rd April to 17th May and assessment was streamlined.

India: Schools and universities remain closed with a very small number of exceptions. CBSE standard 12 exams have been cancelled. Following the CBSE announcement, CISCE and a number of state boards have also cancelled their exams. Standard 10 exams have also been cancelled.

In-person exams in higher education have also been postponed. Some universities are offering online exams.

Indonesia: Most schools and universities are currently teaching in a blended mode. It is planned that schools will fully reopen for the new academic year in July. Higher education institutions are permitted to offer face-to-face teaching if they are able to put specific measures in place. In most cases, lectures are still online with some in-person classes.

Japan: Schools remain open but the state of emergency in some prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, has been extended until mid-June. In universities, some classes are face-to-face and some teaching is online. Japanese students are being strongly advised not to study abroad and exchange programmes have been suspended.

Kazakhstan: Schools have returned to remote learning. Universities are permitted to offer some in-person teaching, mainly for access to labs and for other practical coursework. The Unified National Test (UNT) is computer-based and being held over a longer period of time this year.

Malaysia: All schools started the new term on 14th June online. Schools have been closed since May and tighter lockdown restrictions were in place for the first half of June.

This academic year is expected to run from January to December 2021. All students returned to school by the beginning of April, following a staggered reopening but an increase in cases has led to further closures.

Semester 3 exams for the STPM took place in March, after being postponed. SVM, STAM and SPM exams took place in February.

Nepal: Schools and universities in urban areas are closed and lockdown restrictions have been extended into June.

Pakistan: Schools and universities started to reopen in phases from 18th January. Universities and colleges reopened on 1st February, but were closed until late May following an increase in cases. Schools are now closed for grades 1-8, but have reopened for older students.

Exams have been postponed. HSSC exams will start on 24th June. The Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education previously announced that exams will go ahead in the usual format, but the syllabus has been reduced.

Philippines: Schools remain closed. Some schools in “low-risk” areas were to trial limited face-to-face classes in January 2021, but this was later cancelled.

Universities accepted admissions for the 2021-22 academic year based on Grade 11 results (along with letters of recommendation, personal essays etc.) and did not hold admissions tests for new applicants.

Singapore: A-Level results were released on 19th February 2021. This year’s exams are due to take place as usual. Students are now permitted to travel for study purposes.

In June, students in exam years are returning to school after schools and junior colleges were closed and taught online only for the latter half of May. Mid-year exams will go ahead.

Universities reopened in August or September, after the summer break, with online lectures combined with on-campus classes.

South Korea: Schools are now open, but with restrictions on numbers. Many universities began to move from remote learning to blended delivery from mid-October.

Sri Lanka: Schools and universities are currently closed as Sri Lanka experiences a third wave of infections and lockdown restrictions are in place. A level exams have been postponed from August to October. University admissions processes are likely to be delayed and many universities have postponed degree conferral ceremonies until further notice.

Taiwan: Schools and higher education institutions are teaching online until the beginning of July. They were closed in May following an outbreak.

Thailand: The start of the new term in schools was delayed from May to June. Universities have been teaching online since the end of April.

All schools reopened again at the start of February 2021, with staggered start dates depending on the region. The Ministry of Education allowed all students to progress without taking exams. The O-NET, GAT and PAT exams for Maw 6 students were held in March.

Uzbekistan: Most schools have now reopened, with decisions made at a local level.

Vietnam: Schools and universities are currently closed and teaching online in some areas, including Hanoi.


Austria: Schools have reopened. Only tested students can go back to school. The 2021 Matura exams began on May 20th, two weeks later than originally planned.

Belgium: Schools are open but students are divided into groups and will attend school in shifts. Distance learning for half of their students; the other half will attend on-site. All students that attend on-site schools are tested at the beginning of the week. University courses will normally be held virtually, but universities can allow some students to attend on-site, especially first-year students.

Bulgaria: Since 15th February, schools have been allowed to hold face-to-face classes for all students from grade 5 to grade 12.

Croatia: All schools have reopened with social distancing measures in force. The final year exams (State Matura) are taking place from the 8th May – 29th June 2021.

Cyprus: Final year secondary school students are back to school, while others are learning online from home. January exams in lyceums and technical schools were cancelled. Pupils are examined twice per year, so a full review of pupils’ performance for the year will be completed at the end of the second semester.

Czech Republic: Primary and secondary schools and universities remain closed (remote learning) since the beginning of December. Grade 1-2 pupils, and medical students are an exempt. Entrance exams, final year exams, secondary school leaving exams (Maturita), and exams that are nationally recognised by the government are allowed to go ahead.

Denmark: Since 8th February, primary school pupils in grades 1-4 have returned to classes. From 1st March, final year pupils were able to attend in-person in some areas; further reopening followed later in the month. The remaining grades, secondary schools and universities continue with remote learning. Exams due to be held in January were cancelled; students will sit a reduced number of exams in the summer.

European Baccalaureate: Exams will go ahead in 2021.

Estonia: Schools are now partially open. This year’s state exams were held in April and May.

France: In 2021, students will only sit final Baccalauréat examinations in their two specialisation subjects. Other exams for students in première and terminale (penultimate and final years) have been cancelled.

Germany: Schools have now fully reopened. Abitur exams are going ahead, but may be slightly later than usual in some states.

Greece: Online learning is in place for Athens and the surrounding Attica region, with more cities also going into full lockdown. Primary schools reopened on 11th January, but have closed again in some areas. The Panhellenic exams are being held as usual.

Hungary: Teaching for secondary schools (year 7 and above) is remote. Only primary schools are open and children below the ages of 14 are allowed to attend in-person classes. Secondary school-leaving exams are taking place in May-June. The structure of the final year examination will remain the same.

Ireland: Leaving Cert students returned to school during the week of 22nd February. In higher education, most teaching is online, with only tutorials and laboratory work taking place on campus. Leaving Cert exams will go ahead in 2021, but students will be offered the choice of whether to sit the exams or receive a grade accredited by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).

Italy: Schools have now reopened. Written exams for the Esame di Stato have been cancelled and replaced by an oral exam, as in 2020, but this year performance across the three years of upper secondary will also count towards the final grade.

Latvia: All students are studying remotely. Exams are being held in May. Grade 12 students will not have a mandatory fourth exam in 2021 and 2022.

Lithuania: Schools reopened in March, initially for primary school students and final year students preparing for graduation exams.

Luxembourg: Secondary schools returned to distance and in-person learning for alternate weeks for all classes except for first years and final years. The content for end-of-school exams will be reduced by 15%. The University of Luxembourg is delivering courses through a hybrid model combining online and small group teaching.

Moldova: Primary and secondary schools are fully open. Final secondary school exams are taking place from 4th– 22nd June 2021.

Montenegro: All schools are currently teaching remotely. Schools initially reopened in October for students in primary schools and the first year of secondary education, with other students taught remotely.

Netherlands: Primary schools are open. Secondary, secondary vocational schools, and universities are closed with remote/online teaching in place, apart from exams and practical lessons. Secondary school students who are expected to sit final exams are offered some in-person lessons.

North Macedonia: The State Exam has been adapted and will consist of two external and two internal exams plus a project task. Students are currently being provided with both face-to-face and distance learning. Classes initially resumed online at the beginning of October for older students, with only younger pupils attending face-to-face classes.

Norway: Schools are fully open, but infection rates remain monitored. It is expected that for the rest of the year, secondary education will consist of a blend of online and in-person teaching. Written exams have been cancelled.

Poland: All schools are now closed until at least 9th April. Matura exams took place in May. Students only sat written exams; oral exams were cancelled.

Portugal: Schools were closed in January and reopened in mid-April. A special secondary education TV channel has been created and will broadcast content until the end of the year.

The 2020/21 academic year has been pushed back, with changes to holiday dates and exams. The first phase of secondary exams will take place in July (results in August) and the second phase will take place at the start of September (results mid-September). The same as last year, only students wishing to continue to higher education will take exams.

Romania: Primary and secondary schools reopened from 8th February. Exams went ahead.

Russia: Face-to-face teaching resumed in schools in January and in universities in February. Exams for upper secondary students will go ahead in the usual format.

Slovakia: Since 8th February, students in grades 1-5 have returned to primary schools, with other students continuing with remote learning. For secondary schools, only students in the final grade can attend in-person classes, except for in medical, secondary vocational & technical schools. Universities are also continuing with remote learning with the exception of vocational/ technical degrees. External exams for the Maturita have been cancelled for 2021.

Spain: Schools reopened after the summer break. Universities are offering classes on campus but some have moved courses online following outbreaks.

Sweden: Schools and universities are open, but with some remote teaching.

Switzerland: All schools and universities have reopened in January with some social distancing and face covering measures in place. Exams for the Matura will go ahead as normal.

Turkey: Schools and universities were closed as part of a national lockdown until 17th May and restrictions are now being gradually lifted. Secondary school students returned to school from the beginning of June. The school term will end of the beginning of July. Universities are teaching online and plan to reopen in-person from September.

The national university entrance exam will be held on 26th and 27th June.

Ukraine: Schools and universities are now open.

UK: In Scotland, National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams have been cancelled for 2021. GCSE, AS and A level exams have been cancelled in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. All schools are now fully open.


Algeria: Schools are now open. Exams for the Baccalaureat took place in September. The start of the new academic year was put back until December 2020. Some universities did not complete exams for the past academic year until November.

Botswana: Schools have fully reopened.

Egypt: Attending school in-person for the second semester from 10th March is optional. University students returned to in-person learning from February 27th. The exams for semesters for grade 9 and grade 12 will be both held at the end of the academic year. Students of grades 9 and 12 grades will also take experimental exams from home in April. Final exams for grade 12 will be held electronically at schools and are not likely to start before July.

Ethiopia: Schools are now open. The 2020 University Entrance Examination was held in February 2021.

Ghana: Schools are now partially open. Exams for the WASSCE are scheduled to take place between August and October.

Kenya: Schools are open for some students. KCSE exams were originally scheduled for November, but were postponed and began on 26th March 2021.

Malawi: Schools reopened from 22nd February. Schools initially reopened gradually from September, but classes were suspended again in January.

Morocco: Schools reopened in September, with a combination of online and face-to-face teaching. Universities reopened in October, offering online, in-person or hybrid teaching options for students.

Mozambique: Schools reopened for the new school year on 20th March.

Nigeria: Schools resumed and universities and colleges opened for students in January. WAEC has announced that WASSCE exams will be held in August / September.

South Africa: Schools are partially open. Students returned to school on 15th February. The new academic year for universities started in March.

Tunisia: Schools reopened and universities adopted a hybrid delivery model for the new academic year. However, classes and exams in universities were suspended towards the end of 2020 due a rise in Covid-19 cases.

Uganda: Universities gradually reopened from March. Schools reopened for exam classes from October and other students will start to return once exams are completed in April.

Zambia: Schools and universities have fully reopened.

Zimbabwe: A level exams in June 2021 have been cancelled. Results for the November 2020 exams were released in April.


Bahrain: Schools reopened in mid-March but online learning is also being offered. The University of Bahrain is teaching online, except for practical subjects that require use of labs and technical equipment.

Iran: The Konkur (university entrance exam) is being held in June.

Israel: Schools partially reopened from February.

Jordan: Schools began to reopen in February; universities are closed and teaching remotely.

Kuwait: Schools are teaching remotely. There were no schools exams for the first semester of the 2020-21 academic year. Kuwait University resumed the 2019-20 academic year online in August.

Lebanon: Schools reopened for the new academic year in October.

Oman: Schools are partially open and offering blended delivery. Universities are teaching online, but students may have access to laboratories.

Qatar: Schools and universities are teaching through blended learning for the first semester of the 2020-21 academic year.

Saudi Arabia: Schools continue to teach online.

United Arab Emirates: Schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are open for students to attend but there is the option of distance learning. Schools in other emirates are currently teaching remotely. End-of-year exams will be held in June.


Bolivia: Schools began to reopen in February.

Brazil: The ENEM, which was due to take place at the start of November, was held in January / February. Most schools and universities remain closed, but reopening is being decided at state level with some states now allowing face-to-face teaching.

Canada: Schools in Ontario closed again and have been teaching online since April. Schools in Quebec reopened in August; schools in other provinces started to reopen in September. Arrangements vary between provinces, with some still providing online or blended learning, and others opening schools for all students full-time.

Caribbean: CXC exams will take place in June / July.

Chile: Schools and universities are currently closed. Schools briefly reopened in March.

Mexico: Schools and universities are closed. Schools are teaching via distance learning. Universities are permitted to make their own decisions about when to reopen and how to deliver courses, in line with any national guidelines.

Uruguay: Schools are currently closed.

USA: Some schools are open, others are teaching remotely. Some universities and colleges have reopened; a number have closed again following outbreaks on campus.

Some dates have been announced for the SAT between March and December 2021. The ACT is scheduled to take place on February 6th, April 17th, June 12th, June 17th 2021. AP exams are scheduled to take place between May 3rd and June 11th.


Australia: Schools are open.

New Zealand: Schools are open.


Cambridge International: 2021 exams will go ahead. All Cambridge IGCSE, International AS and A level and Pre-U exams worldwide in May and June 2020 were cancelled.

International Baccalaureate: In 2021, two assessment routes will be available (an examination route and a non-examination route) depending on whether schools in different countries are able to administer exams safely. Exams due to take place in May 2020 were cancelled. Results, based on coursework and teacher assessment, were released on 6th July.

OxfordAQA: OxfordAQA exams in May / June 2021 have been cancelled. All exams for International GCSE, AS and A level qualifications in May and June 2020 were cancelled.

Pearson: International GCSE, AS and A level exams will not go ahead in May / June 2021. All International GCSE, AS and A level exams globally, due to be held in May and June 2020, were cancelled.

English language tests

One of the other principal challenges faced by students and admitting universities alike, will be access to Secure English Language Tests for visa purposes, as individuals are required to have attended an approved test centre.

Some SELT test providers are maintaining a list of current test centre closures. You can find out the latest through the dedicated COVID-19 pages on their websites:

Other English language test providers are also maintaining updates on their websites:

Further information

Further information on the resources available from Ecctis to support our member organisations and diverse stakeholders across the globe can be found here.

4 Thoughts

  1. Really useful intel. Would be helpful if flags were added to indicate where the most recent updates have been made.

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