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: 5th May 2021]

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 April 2021 UNESCO found that in 27 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. Exams took place in February/March.

Bangladesh: Schools and universities are closed, and a national lockdown has been introduced following the recent increase in cases. 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.

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. Some university students are starting to receive vaccinations.

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 are taking place from 23rd April to 17th May and assessment has been streamlined.

India: Schools and universities are now closed following the recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

The CBSE and CISCE have announced that 2021 exams for standard 12 are postponed until further notice. State boards have also postponed exams. In-person exams in higher education have also been postponed. Some universities are offering online exams.

Indonesia: The new academic year started in July with a combination of online and face-to-face teaching, depending on the local situation. Some schools in low-risk areas gradually reopened from July onwards. Most teaching is currently online, but the situation varies according to local restrictions.

Japan: Schools remain open but a state of emergency has been declared in some prefectures. 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) will be computer-based and held over a longer period of time this year.

Malaysia: This academic year is expected to run from January to December 2021. Schools are currently closed and teaching online for two weeks following an increase in cases. All students returned to school by the beginning of April, following a staggered reopening. Face-to-face lessons for students taking the SPM, SVM, SKM, STPM, STAM or DVM examinations started from 20th January 2021, with others returning later.

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 until mid-May.

Pakistan: Schools and universities started to reopen in phases from 18th January. Universities and colleges reopened on 1st February. Schools are now closed for grades 1-8. Universities may hold face-to-face classes if local infection rates are low.

Exams have been postponed until 15th 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 are now accepting admissions for the 2021-22 academic year. They are not carrying out admissions tests for new applicants, and Grade 11 results (along with letters of recommendation, personal essays, etc.) are being used to assess admissions.

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.

Universities reopened in August or September, after the summer break, with online lectures combined with on-campus classes. Schools are teaching classes in-person, but will offer home-based learning for at least two days per month from the start of June onwards, in plans to make it a permanent feature of education post-COVID.

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: Postponed A level exams were held in October and results were released in March. Schools and universities are open.

Taiwan: Schools and universities are open.

Thailand: 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 have switched to online teaching after the new year holiday in response to a third wave of infections, then reopened in March.


Austria: Schools have reopened. Only tested students can go back to school. The 2021 Matura exams will begin 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: From 15th February, schools are 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 Ministry of Education has announced that the final year exams (State Matura) will take 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 will also be able to attend in-person in some areas, with futher reopening planned for later in the month. The remaining grades, secondary schools and universities continue with remote learning. Exams due to be held in January were cancelled; a decision has not yet been taken on summer exams.

European Baccalaureate: Exams will go ahead in 2021.

Estonia: Schools are now partially open. This year’s state exams are scheduled for 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 are beginning to reopen as the second lockdown is gradually lifted.

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. A decision on this year’s exams will be made by the end of April.

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. So far, there are no plans to cancel secondary school-leaving exams, which are due to take plans 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: Secondary schools have adopted a flexible form of education; at least 50% and up to maximum of 75% of the student population can return to face-to-face learning, as decided by individual regions. Face-to-face learning is guaranteed to students who have to use laboratories or to ensure inclusion of pupils with disabilities or special educational needs. Teaching in areas with a high risk level will stay remote. 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 expected to be held in May 2021. Grade 12 students will not have a mandatory fourth exam in 2021 and 2022.

Lithuania: The government is currently looking at reopening of schools for primary school students and final year students that are 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 set to take place from the 4th- 22nd of 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 government is looking into conducting the State Exam in a different way: 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.

Poland: All schools are now closed until at least 9th April. Matura exams normally take place in May. English oral exams have been cancelled.

Portugal: Schools had reopened, but were again closed in January. Grades 1 to 12 started online classes from February 8th. 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). Last year only students wishing to continue to higher education took exams. It has not yet been announced if it will be the same this year.

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

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. The government is currently re-evaluating the current situation, and there is a high chance of end of school leaving examinations taking place online.

Turkey: Schools and universities are closed as part of a national lockdown until 17th May. The second semester started on 15th February with distance learning. Prior to lockdown on 29th April, face-to-face learning was offered for grades 8 and 12 and in medium and low risk areas other students were also attending school for part of the week. Universities were also providing a combination of online delivery and small group teaching on campus.

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 in England are now fully open, as well as all primary schools in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, where secondary schools will also return full-time after the Easter break.


Algeria: Schools and universities are currently closed. 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.

Kenya: Schools are open for some students. KCSE exams were originally scheduled for November, but have been 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: Students returned to school on 15th February. The new academic year for universities will start in March. The current one will be concluded between December and March, depending on the institution.

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 2021 exams have not yet been released.


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.

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 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 May/June written examinations are expected to begin on Monday 3rd May 2021.

Chile: Schools and universities are currently closed.

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 open.

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 due 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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