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: 27th July 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 27th July 2021, among the countries not on a summer academic break, UNESCO found that schools and universities in 8 countries are closed at a national level. Some 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 began to reopen from 13th June, with some students only attending one day a week initially. Universities remain closed. Cambridge International A level and O level exams did not go ahead. SSC and HSC exams are planned to be held in November and December respectively.

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 allowed 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 some exceptions. CBSE standard 12 exams have been cancelled. Following the CBSE announcement, CISCE and a number of state boards have also cancelled their exams. CBSE, CISCE and some state boards have released details of how grades will be awarded. 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. 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 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, but a plan is now being put in place to prioritise vaccinations for students who wish study abroad from the autumn.

Kazakhstan: 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 will reopen in stages from the beginning of September.

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: Before the break, schools and universities in urban areas were closed.

Pakistan: Schools are closed for grades 1-8, but have reopened for older students. Schools and universities were closed in late May following an increase in cases.

Exams have been postponed. HSSC exams began on 10th 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: 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.

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 now open, but with restrictions on numbers. Many universities are offering blended delivery.

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 taught online until the beginning of July. They were closed in May following an outbreak. Schools will reopen for the new academic year in September.

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. 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: Before the summer break, schools and universities were closed and teaching online in some areas, including Hanoi.


Austria: Schools were open but students required to undergo regular testing. The 2021 Matura exams began on May 20th, two weeks later than originally planned.

Belgium: 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: 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 with social distancing measures in force. The final year exams (State Matura) took place from the 8th May – 29th June 2021.

Cyprus: 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: Primary and secondary schools and universities were closed (remote learning) from the beginning of December. Grade 1-2 pupils, and medical students were an exempt. 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: 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 were partially open. This year’s state exams were held in April and May.

France: In 2021, students only sat a final Baccalauréat examinations in philosophy and an oral exam. Exams in their two specialisation subjects were cancelled.

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

Greece: 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: 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: Leaving Cert students returned to school during the week of 22nd February. In higher education, most teaching was online, with only tutorials and laboratory work taking place on campus. 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 were open before closing for the summer break. 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.

Latvia: All students were studying remotely. 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: 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 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. Final secondary school exams took place from 4th– 22nd June 2021.

Montenegro: All schools were 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 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: 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. Classes initially resumed online at the beginning of October for older students, with only younger pupils attending face-to-face classes.

Norway: Schools were open, but secondary education consisted of a blend of online and in-person teaching. Written exams were cancelled.

Poland: 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 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: 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 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 were open. Universities are offering classes on campus but some have moved courses online following outbreaks.

Sweden: Schools and universities were open until the summer break, 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 went 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 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: Schools and universities were open before the start of the summer break.

UK: 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.


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 returned after exams were 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) was 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 were 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 took 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 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 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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