What University Might Look Like in September 2020

A rough guide to how you'll be studying, partying and living this year.
Ryan Bassil
London, United Kingdom
August 18, 2020, 8:00am
Students enjoying freshers
Photo: Sian Bradley

University is a time to pack up your childhood belongings, buy three large packets of rice and move in with a bunch of strangers. In 2020, it is still that, but there’s also the addition of a new infectious virus. Aka Coronavirus, aka COVID-19, which is currently changing the world’s fabric and will affect campus life in myriad ways, from hooking up and going out to actually learning stuff.

Currently, every university in the country is all, “We’re all working hard to ensure a safe campus for all.” But, like how?

Universities are independent bodies, so unlike schools they are responsible for whatever decisions they take in the pandemic. This means that not every university will be the same. The experience you’re being sold over at University One, might be entirely different from University Two.

However within this, there do seem to be some standardised practices across the UK’s 100-ish universities. Here’s the basic info you need to know, if you’re heading to university this September.


Lectures have long been available for hungover students to view online. This is nothing new. Happily, students across the UK will once again be able to indulge in the traditional wake’n’bake before attempting to consume two hour’s worth of info on microeconomics. What’s changing is the contact time, with less in person hours meaning more online sessions are gonna be introduced.

Bristol University is calling their version of this “blended learning” – which, in a nutshell, is a mix of in-person learning with social distancing, then online, involving recorded lectures, live online learning and self study. They also say all lectures for 2020/21 academic year will be online, because of large group sizes and the difficulty of lecturing in a safe, socially distanced way.

King’s College London has a similar approach. Students will participate where necessary in campus learning, such as for lab sessions, practical learning and some seminars and tutorials. Lectures will be delivered online at least for the first term, though may end up changing later in the year.

On campus, universities like University College London will also be operating one-way systems to help with distancing.

These processes are atypical of UK universities as they plan to return to teaching in the new academic year. Safely assume there will also be more hand sanitiser available than the mystery £1 shot in the SU bar.


During university, you’ll usually be placed in living quarters with at least one person you see just a handful of times after move in day, one dude who goes gym, then three people who either get completely on your nerves or end up being your new best pals. It’s just the luck of the draw. The tricky thing this year is that it’s going to be difficult to visit friends who you aren’t living with, in their home.

Sheffield University, for example, says each student flat will be treated as a household, meaning the government’s rules around households still apply. So you could potentially mix indoors with another flat, but only one. Meeting outdoors with up to six people is OK though, per government rules, and they can be from different households too. It’s already easy to see this rule being confused, as students move from building to building. Time will tell how it might be enforced.

Face masks should be expected in communal living areas such as corridors.

Of course, things might be so bad in your student house or halls that you want to leave and move elsewhere. Under current government advice, students are allowed a one-off move to another household.

Also, if you’re the kind who might want to travel home to your parents or boyfriend/girlfriend every other week then you can’t. Government advice says you’re not allowed to move back and forth between student home and parental home, so this year’s students will be in it for the long haul.


Yeah, so, the majority of Freshers events are taking place online, on Zoom. Some university student union’s like Bournemouth University’s says it is working toward a full Freshers line-up including nightclub events, pending restrictions being lifted by the government. As it stands, indoor events are allowed but only with social distancing. Really, it’s difficult to see how this year’s Freshers week nightclub events will resemble years previous.

Bristol SU has a platter of online events this Freshers week, such as quizzes, chai and chat, virtual campus tours and “speedfriending”, which allows students to “meet friends from around the world”.

The approach of Bournemouth and Bristol is echoed across the UK university landscape. Leeds University Union says it is “planning a combination of digital and in-person events to help you avoid that Zoom fatigue”. This involves virtual cooking classes, escape rooms, yoga and meditation. It also plans to have an outdoor food festival with bookable tables, outdoor DJ events and outdoor cinema – all of which will be available for Freshers who wish to head to campus.

However all of the above is a rough guide. With the situation ultimately changing every day, it’s difficult to know exactly what your university will be like in 2020. Many universities are running live updates on their return to campus, so best to hit them up. It’s gonna be a unique experience.