Guidance for University of Edinburgh students undertaking or planning to undertake work/study placements abroad in 2021/22.
Update 15th July 2021
Following the UK Government’s announcement that, from 19th July, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will no longer advise against travel to amber countries, the University Executive has agreed to approve travel, where possible, for students who wish to undertake their planned mandatory and optional study and work abroad activities in 2021/22.
Our FAQs have been updated to reflected this adapted policy.
Risk assessment and approval
The following types of study/work placements would need to go through SWAY’s risk assessment and approval process:
overseas study exchanges (both European and international)
overseas work placements/traineeships (including British Council Language Assistantships)
attendance at overseas language schools
UG and PGT overseas research placements
Your study/work abroad activity will be assessed by the Study and Work Away (SWAY) Service. Approval is dependent on:
your host institution has accepted your nomination/application
your ability to meet any entry/visa restrictions in place for your host country
depending on the nature of your activity, your host country not being in lockdown, a state of emergency, or under other types of restrictions due to other crises at the time of approval
completion of a robust risk assessment
The risk assessment by SWAY consists of two stages. Both stages must be approved for your activity to go ahead.
In stage one, you will need to provide evidence of:
FCDO travel advice for your host country
entry requirements for your host country
whether your host country is currently in lockdown and/or a state of emergency
your host institution's acceptance of you to study in person
risk Assessment of the activity you plan to undertake
your overall health and wellbeing, and how you plan to manage any conditions whilst abroad
how your mental health might be impacted whilst abroad and what coping mechanisms you could put in place
If stage one is approved, you will be authorised by SWAY to book travel and accommodation. You should not book travel or accommodation until you are authorised to do so by SWAY.
In stage two you need to provide evidence of:
the accommodation you have in place for your time abroad. Note this must be long-term accommodation for the duration of your placement (i.e. not a short-term hotel/hostel) and should be provided or at least recommended by your host
your return flights (for both the outbound and inbound journeys) that you book for your destination
In recognition of recent changes to the UK Government’s international travel guidance, the University Executive has adapted its position on 2021/22 overseas study and work activities. Optional exchanges are now considered ‘essential’ and may proceed, even in cases where the FCDO is advising against all but essential travel to a host country This means your activity may still be able to go ahead, subject to:
your host’s ability to accept you in person,
any visa/entry requirements in place for your destination,
completion of a robust risk assessment process, and
final approval from the SWAY Service.
The University's insurance providers will provide cover to students undertaking mandatory and optional activities assuming all the above conditions have been met, even if the country is currently in a national lockdown or has declared a state of emergency in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This means that all students who have a confirmed study/work placement, and who have confirmed that they wish to travel abroad, can be considered for travel.
The University's insurance provider can provide cover to students undertaking study/work abroad activities, even if the host country is currently in a national lockdown or has declared a state of emergency in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This means that all students who have a confirmed study/work placement, have confirmed that they wish to travel abroad and meet all the conditions set for their activity, can be considered for travel.
This is the case for both mandatory and optional study and work abroad activities.
If you choose to proceed with your overseas activity without having been granted authorisation via the SWAY flexibility approval process, the University will not give, or accept the transfer of, any credits gained during the activity.
This means that any credits gained as a result of undertaking the placement would not be transferred back to your Edinburgh degree, which would impact your ability to progress into the final year of your programme upon return to Edinburgh.
You would not be covered by University insurance. Therefore, you would not receive any financial protection from any placement risks, e.g. medical costs, lost/stolen items, repatriation, etc. You would also not be eligible for the Erasmus+ grant (if applicable).
The University understands that some students may have personal concerns regarding travelling or spending an extended period of time abroad during the current global pandemic. As such, no student will be required to do so, regardless of whether their planned overseas activity is mandatory or optional.
For students with a mandatory period abroad, if there are medical or exceptional circumstances preventing a student from proceeding with their activity they may be offered the option to undertake their activity remotely through the host. If remote study is not possible, students must speak to their School to determine the best course of action. In these circumstances, if the School is not able to provide a suitable academic alternative, the student may have to consider an Interruption to their studies“.
If you decide to withdraw from the programme before departure, you must notify the Study and Work Away Service and your Exchange Coordinator and Personal Tutor as soon as possible, in writing. The Study and Work Away Service will inform your host university of your withdrawal and your Exchange Coordinator and Personal Tutor will advise you on registering for courses at Edinburgh.
Please note that if you withdraw from your activity after incurring travel and accommodation costs (and before a risk assessment has been approved) you would not be able to claim these costs back via the University's insurance.
Unfortunately, approval could be revoked if any of the following factors change:
FCDO travel advice for your host country changes (e.g. there is a high risk alert in your host country)
another type of crisis is introduced in your host country that poses an unacceptable risk to your safety and well-being
your host is unable to accept you in person
If your approval to travel is revoked in advance of your activity starting, you will be able to claim travel and accommodation reimbursements through University insurance.
If you travel against University guidance and without explicit approval from SWAY, you will not be covered by the University’s travel insurance and will not be eligible to gain credit or any associated funding for your time abroad.
Important things to consider
Travel advice can change at very short notice. Restrictions may be issued by the FCDO or lockdowns/states of emergency imposed by host countries which mean that your placement cannot take place.
Students in 2020/21 have found it frustrating and disappointing when travel approvals are revoked because of a change in FCDO guidance/in-country restrictions.
You should keep in mind this possibility throughout the approval process.
The University's insurance providers can provide cover to students undertaking study/work abroad activities, even if the host country is currently in a national lockdown or has declared a state of emergency in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This means that all students who have been approved for travel will still be able to travel, regardless of whether their host country subsequently introduces a national lockdown/state of emergency, provided they meet all the conditions for their travel.
Only in the event that the situation in your host country significantly deteriorates and poses an unacceptable risk to the safety and wellbeing of our students, and the University's insurance provider withdraws their insurance cover for students to travel, would the University revoke approval to travel.
In the case of approval being revoked, you would be able to claim back costs through University insurance for any travel/accommodation you have booked and are unable to claim back from your travel/accommodation provider, as long as you booked it after your stage 1 risk assessment was approved.
All queries about visa and immigration requirements for UK citizens should be directed to the local embassy/consulate in your destination country and your prospective host institution. Please note that University of Edinburgh staff are not qualified or permitted to advise on specific visa/immigration queries to overseas destinations.
If you are a UK national and will be spending time abroad in Europe, please see our Brexit webpage for further information:
Further information can also be found on our visa webpage:
If a placement can’t take place
If you have a compulsory period abroad beginning in Semester 1 and your exchange is cancelled by the host university, SWAY will seek to re-allocate you to an alternative host institution (provided places are available and nomination deadlines have not passed).
If this is not possible, SWAY will liaise with the host university regarding remote exchange, if feasible (Please read the ‘Will I be able to undertake my activity remotely if I cannot travel?’ question)
We understand that this may be very disappointing, but given the increasing numbers of host cancellations and the fact that many countries have strict entry requirements and partner institutions have set deadlines, the number of places we will be able to reallocate is limited.
We cannot guarantee we will be able to reallocate all students on mandatory placements.
We are, unfortunately, unable to re-allocate students on optional placements, whose exchanges have been cancelled by the host institution, to an alternative destination.
If your exchange is cancelled for Semester 1, you will be nominated for a Semester 2 exchange instead (where this can be accommodated by the partner and your School/degree programme).
If this cannot be accommodated by the partner and/or the student’s School/degree programme, the exchange will be cancelled.
If you are doing a work placement or traineeship that is mandatory for your degree programme then you may be able to change your destination, provided this is in agreement with your School.
If you are doing a study exchange, unfortunately, you will not be able to change your destination. If you are in this situation, you should speak with your School to find an alternative, eg. alternate options on your degree programme, or a work placement.
If your host has deferred your place until Semester 2 and your School can accommodate a single semester abroad, then this may be possible.
If your School advises that a single Semester 2 activity abroad would not be possible, then this will most likely mean you will need to enrol in University of Edinburgh classes for the coming year. Affected students should have already been contacted by their Schools to advise of their options.
For students on degree programmes with a mandatory period abroad, whose host has cancelled in person exchange/who are unable to travel, SWAY will liaise with the partner to organise remote exchange where the following criteria are met:
- the partner offers remote exchange options
- the student has no standard University of Edinburgh alternative to the exchange (e.g. students on a Modern Languages, Business/Law with a Modern Language, or International Business degrees (which include a mandatory period abroad)
In addition to the above, the following criteria must be met for a remote activity to be approved:
The host must confirm the availability of the remote study/work option before the review date set for your activity
The host must be offering you the option of completing your entire activity remotely - ie. you must be able to undertake a full credit load of classes/work activity online via the host, without the requirement to attend any in-person activity
Your School must be supportive of letting you enrol remotely at your host institution
Important things to consider
Even if the above conditions are met, you should think very carefully about whether remote study is the best option for you.
Studying remotely has previously posed specific challenges for students, and we would strongly encourage you to consider the following factors before requesting to be put forward for remote study:
Will classes at your host institution be synchronous (i.e. will you have to log on to virtual lectures in real-time)? If so, will the time difference between your host country and current location make following these classes challenging?
If classes are asynchronous (i.e. you can log on and view recorded lectures at any time), will you have any opportunity for interaction with tutors/other students? If not, how might this impact your learning/mental health?
What support will your host be offering for exchange students studying remotely? Will this be easily accessible and/or available in your language?
How will studying remotely affect your overall exchange experience and what you want to get out of it?
Remote exchange will not be offered as an option for students with an optional period abroad. These students will instead be advised to enrol on University of Edinburgh courses if they are unable to travel/their host cancels. Where possible, their exchange will be postponed to Semester 2.
Work placements (including traineeships & British Council Language Assistantships)
Students undertaking work placements may also be able to consider remote placements if approved by their University of Edinburgh course organiser/ placement coordinator. However, students should consider potential time-zone differences and whether the organisation can fully support remote working.
Placement coordinators/students should identify whether their placement can be conducted remotely either initially or for the duration of the placement period.
If it is feasible for students to begin the placement remotely, then travel to their placement at a later stage (eg. once travel restrictions are lifted) and students can secure a visa, then students should aim to submit their stage 1 risk assessment at least one month before they plan to travel. Stage 2 risk assessments should be submitted at least a week before travel.
Some placements may only be offered as in-person opportunities. In this case, the placement coordinator should set a deadline for confirming whether the placement can go ahead. This should provide students with enough time to make an alternative academic arrangement if they cannot travel.
As always, requests for Authorised Interruptions of Study (AIS) are looked at on an individual basis and approved by the relevant College Office.
The Colleges are discouraging students from applying for AIS solely based on not being able to go abroad this year, as such requests would only be approved if the learning outcomes of the student’s degree programme could not be otherwise met. This will only be the case for a small minority of students.
Any student who takes an AIS and wishes to proceed with an overseas exchange/work placement upon their return would need to submit a new application for 2022/23; their place from this year, unfortunately, cannot be held open for them.
Study exchange applications for the 2022/23 academic year will open in November 2021. Please see the How to Apply section of our website for more details.
Although some five-year degree programmes may allow this, this will not be possible for the vast majority of students due to the structure of their degree programmes.
In particular, current third-year undergraduate students will likely focus on dissertation preparations in the fourth and final year of their degree programme, which would make it impossible for a year or semester-long exchange to take place at the same time.
You are advised to contact your programme directors to confirm if it is feasible for an overseas activity to be completed in another year of the programme.
We understand that students have worked hard on organising their overseas activities and that having to adjust plans as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic will have been extremely disappointing. A virtual international experience may not be exactly what you had in mind but could offer a viable alternative.
The Universityof Edinburgh is running the NICE and INCiTE programmes online this year, which offer an opportunity for a virtual international experience. You can find out more and register your interest when applications open.
Find out more and register for the NICE programme via the NICE website
- Find out more about the INCiTE programme and register your interest via the INCiTE website
Virtual international opportunities
Some of our partner institutions are also offering virtual international opportunities this year.