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: 18th November 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. Information on disruption to exams in summer 2021 can be found in our latest report: The Effects of COVID-19 on International Secondary Assessment: Summer 2021 Update.

For the latest updates, a summary by country can be found below.

As of 18th November 2021, UNESCO found that schools and universities in 9 countries are closed at a national level. 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 continued until the end of the academic year. School exams took place in February/March. The university entrance exam was held in three phases.

Bangladesh: Schools and colleges reopened from 12th September; universities remain closed. Cambridge International A level and O level exams did not go ahead. Secondary School Certificate and Higher Secondary Certificate exams are planned to be held in November and December respectively.

Cambodia: Schools started to gradually reopen from mid-September. Grade 12 exams due to take place in January 2021 were cancelled and all students automatically given a pass grade.

China: The new academic year starts in September. Schools and universities have taken a staggered approach to reopening. Joint institutes and programmes are permitted to admit students who hold offers from overseas universities but have had their plans to study overseas affected by the pandemic. Schools and universities reopened in a staggered way throughout March following the new year break and were fully open before the summer break. The Gaokao was held on 7th June.

Hong Kong: Half-day face-to-face classes are being held in schools from September. Between Chinese New Year and the summer break, up to one-third of students were permitted to be in 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 in many states began to reopen in August and September. Exams were cancelled for Standard 10, and for Standard 12 by the All-India boards and the majority of state boards. Many in-person exams in higher education were postponed. Some universities are offering online exams.

Indonesia: Most schools and universities are currently teaching in a blended mode; restrictions vary between regions. Schools and universities in Jakarta are now permitted to hold limited in-person classes at reduced capacity. Schools reopened for the new academic year in July with smaller classes and reduced hours. 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 are currently open. 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, but a plan is now being put in place to prioritise vaccinations for students who wish study abroad from the autumn.

Kazakhstan: Schools reopened with face-to-face teaching in September. Before the summer break, schools were teaching remotely. Universities were permitted to offer some in-person teaching, mainly for access to labs and for other practical coursework. The Unified National Test (UNT) was computer-based and 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. Schools began to reopen in stages from the beginning of October. Tertiary institutions are also able to allow students to return to campus from October.

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.

Myanmar: Schools reopened in November.

Nepal: Schools and universities are closed. However, local governments can allow some schools to reopen in certain circumstances. Grade 12 exams were held in September. Exams at Tribhuvan University went ahead.

Pakistan: Schools and universities reopened on 16th September. Before the summer break, schools were closed for grades 1-8, but reopened for older students. Schools and universities were closed in late May following an increase in cases.

Exams were postponed and HSSC exams were held in July. 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: The new academic year began in September with blended learning in schools. Approval will be required to conduct in-person classes.

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.

Students returned to school in a phased manner from June, with all students back at school in-person by 6th July. Mid-year exams went ahead.

Universities provide online lectures combined with some on-campus classes.

South Korea: Schools are open for some pupils, but with restrictions on numbers. Many universities are offering blended delivery.

Sri Lanka: Schools are gradually reopening. A level exams have been postponed again with new dates yet to be released. University admissions processes are likely to be delayed and many universities have postponed degree conferral ceremonies until further notice.

Taiwan: Schools reopened for the new academic year in September. Schools and higher education institutions moved to online teaching after they were closed in May following an outbreak.

Thailand: The start of the new term in schools was delayed from May to June. Schools reopened on 14th June, but face-to-face teaching is not permitted in some areas, including Bangkok. More schools are expected to open in November. Universities are allowed to teach onsite with suitable measures in place after teaching online since the end of April.

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 began the new academic year in September. In many areas teaching is online. Schools in Hanoi will reopen in November and schools in Ho Chi Min City are expected to reopen in January 2022. Before the summer break, schools and universities were closed and teaching online in some areas, including Hanoi.


Austria: Schools fully reopened in September with a variety of measures in place depending on the number of cases reported locally. The 2021 Matura exams began on May 20th, two weeks later than originally planned.

Belgium: Schools fully reopened in September. Before the summer break, schools were open with students divided into groups and attending school in shifts. Distance learning for half of their students; the other half attended on-site. University courses were taught virtually, but universities were able to allow some students to attend on-site, especially first-year students.

Bulgaria: The new school year started in mid-September with in-person classes. From 15th February onwards , schools were allowed to hold face-to-face classes for all students from grade 5 to grade 12.

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

Cyprus: Schools fully reopened for in-person classes in September. Before the summer break, final year secondary school students were taught in school, while others studied 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 was completed at the end of the second semester.

Czech Republic: Schools have reopened for the new academic year. Entrance exams, final year exams, secondary school leaving exams (Maturita), and exams that are nationally recognised by the government were allowed to go ahead.

Denmark: Schools reopened for the new academic year. From 8th February, primary school pupils in grades 1-4 attended in-person 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 continued with remote learning. Exams due to be held in January were cancelled; students sat a reduced number of exams in the summer.

European Baccalaureate: Exams went ahead in 2021.

Estonia: Schools are teaching in-person. Schools were partially open before the summer break. This year’s state exams were held in April and May.

France: Students in schools at all levels are attending classes in-person from September. In 2021, students only sat a final Baccalauréat examinations in philosophy and an oral exam. Exams in their two specialisation subjects were cancelled. For analysis of the results of the 2021 Baccalauréat, please see our post How have this year’s exam results been affected by changes to assessment?

Germany: Schools fully reopened before the summer. Abitur exams went ahead, but slightly later than usual in some states.

Greece: Schools reopened in mid-September. Online learning was in place for Athens and the surrounding Attica region, with more cities also going into full lockdown. Primary schools reopened on 11th January, then closed again in some areas. The Panhellenic exams were held as usual.

Hungary: Schools fully reopened in September. Before the summer break, teaching for secondary schools (year 7 and above) was remote. Only primary schools were open and children below the ages of 14 were allowed to attend in-person classes. Secondary school-leaving exams took place in May-June. The structure of the final year examination remained the same.

Ireland: Schools fully reopened at the end of August / beginning of September. Leaving Cert exams went ahead, but students were offered the choice of whether to sit the exams or receive a grade accredited by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).

Italy: Schools are teaching in-person classes. Written exams for the Esame di Stato were 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. For analysis of the results of the 2021 Esame di Stato, please see our post How have this year’s exam results been affected by changes to assessment?

Latvia: Schools reopened with in-person teaching in September. All students were studying remotely before the summer break. Exams were 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: Schools will reopen in September. Secondary schools returned to distance and in-person learning for alternate weeks for all classes except for first years and final years prior to the summer break. The content for end-of-school exams was 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 were fully open before the summer. Final secondary school exams took place from 4th– 22nd June 2021.

Montenegro: Schools were partially open before the summer break. Schools initially reopened in October for students in primary schools and the first year of secondary education, with other students taught remotely.

Netherlands: There are no restrictions on on-site teaching from September. Primary schools were open. Secondary, secondary vocational schools, and universities were closed with remote/online teaching in place, apart from exams and practical lessons. Secondary school students sitting final exams were offered some in-person lessons.

North Macedonia: Schools fully reopened for in-person classes in September. The State Exam was adapted and consisted of two external and two internal exams plus a project task. Students were provided with both face-to-face and distance learning in the 2020/21 academic year. Classes initially resumed online at the beginning of October for older students, with only younger pupils attending face-to-face classes.

Norway: Schools and universities can return to face-to-face teaching in the normal way from September. Before the summer break, schools were open, but secondary education consisted of a blend of online and in-person teaching. Written exams were cancelled.

Poland: Schools resumed normal classes after the summer break. 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 was created and broadcast content until the end of the school 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: Schools were open but only partially reopened after the autumn break, as only schools with 60% of staff vaccinated were permitted to open. Exams went ahead before the summer holidays.

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

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

Spain: Schools fully reopened in September.

Sweden: Schools and universities were open until the summer break, but with some remote teaching. They reopened as normal in September.

Switzerland: Universities are allowed to resume face-to-face teaching at the start of the new academic year. Many institutions will also offer online teaching as they require Covid certificates for students attending in-person.

All schools and universities reopened in January with some social distancing and face covering measures in place. Exams for the Matura went ahead as normal.

Turkey: Schools reopened with full-time face-to-face learning in September. 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 ended at the beginning of July. Universities are teaching online and plan to reopen in-person from September.

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

Ukraine: School holidays were moved forward to 18th October. Schools are currently closed in areas with high infection rates.

UK: Schools are fully open for the new academic year. Some blended provision will be offered in universities. In Scotland, National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams were cancelled for 2021. GCSE, AS and A level exams were cancelled in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Our blog article How have this year’s exam results been affected by changes to assessment? looks at 2021 A level results. It is planned that exams will go ahead in 2022. Contingency plans have been released, in the event that exams need to be cancelled.


Algeria: Schools reopened for the new academic year on 21st September with restrictions on class sizes and some pupils attending on alternate days.

Botswana: Schools reopened in a phased manner at the beginning of September.

Egypt: The start of the new school year was pushed back to mid-October but schools are now open.

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.

2020 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 2020, but classes were suspended again in January 2021.

Morocco: The mode of study for the start of the new academic year in September varies by institution, depending on the local situation and whether social distancing is possible.

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

Nigeria: Schools resumed and universities and colleges opened for students in January. WASSCE exams are being 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 fully reopened for the new academic year in September.

Schools reopened and universities adopted a hybrid delivery model for the 2020-21 academic year. However, classes and exams in universities were suspended towards the end of 2020, and schools closed again in early 2021 due a rise in Covid-19 cases.

Uganda: Schools and universities are currently closed.

Zambia: Schools and universities have fully reopened.

Zimbabwe: University exams in July were disrupted by a rise in cases. A level and O level exams in June 2021 were cancelled; students will sit them in the November exam session. Results for the November 2020 exams, which were held later than usual, 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) was held in June.

Israel: Schools reopened for the new academic year on 1st September.

Jordan: Schools and universities can teach in-person from the beginning of September.

Kuwait: In-person teaching resumed at the end of September / beginning of October. Before the summer break, schools were 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 gradually for in-person classes from the end of September.

Oman: For the new academic year, schools are partially open and offering blended delivery. Final year students are being taught face-to-face. Universities are teaching online, but students may have access to laboratories.

Qatar: Students returned to classrooms for the new academic year in September. Schools and universities taught through blended learning for the 2020-21 academic year.

Saudi Arabia: Secondary school students who are fully vaccinated have returned to in-person classes. It was planned that primary school pupils would follow once 70% of the population have received a second dose of the vaccine, or by the end of October, but this has been postponed.

United Arab Emirates: Most schools started the new academic year with in-person classes for all students. Before the summer break, schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were open for students to attend but there was the option of distance learning. Schools in other emirates were teaching remotely. End-of-year exams were held in June.


Bolivia: Schools began to reopen in February, but remain closed in some areas.

Brazil: School reopening is decided at state level; most have now reopened. Private schools are offered hybrid delivery; state schools reopened later and remain closed in some areas. The 2020 ENEM, which was due to take place at the start of November, was held in January / February.

Canada: Arrangements vary between provinces, with some still providing online or blended learning for some students, and others opening schools for all students full-time.

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

Chile: Some schools have reopened, while others, especially public schools, remain closed.

Colombia: Schools are now open.

Guyana: Primary schools are fully open from September; individual arrangements are in place for secondary schools.

Jamaica: There was a staggered reopening of schools from September onwards.

Mexico: Schools are starting to reopen after being closed in the majority of areas since March 2020. Schools are teaching via distance learning where possible. 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 open.

USA: The majority of schools are offering full in-person teaching from September.

The ACT was held on February 6th, April 17th, June 12th, June 17th 2021. AP exams were held between May 3rd and June 11th.


Australia: Schools are now open. HSC exams started on 9th November; they were originally scheduled for October.

New Zealand: Some areas are at alert level 3, meaning schools are only open for some students. The rest of the country is at alert level 2 and schools are open.


Cambridge International: June 2021 exams went ahead, unless it was not possible due to government restrictions.

International Baccalaureate: In 2021, two assessment routes were available (an examination route and a non-examination route) depending on whether schools in different countries were able to administer exams safely.

OxfordAQA: OxfordAQA exams in May / June 2021 were cancelled.

Pearson: International GCSE, AS and A level exams originally due to take place in May / June 2021 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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