In recognition of the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic poses for international travel, the UCML Special Interest Group on the Year Abroad is working to secure alternative, interim arrangements to enable students whose degrees include an integral year abroad with a Modern Language to continue their linguistic progress and sustain skills and knowledge development to an advanced level.

In line with the QAA subject benchmark statements for Languages, Cultures, and Societies, this is likely to include some combination of virtual mobility and residence abroad as circumstances permit, focusing on alternative opportunities for contact with the target language environment through shared digital resources and, where possible, remote/virtual interaction.

The UCML YA SIG has established the following principles for Year Abroad 2020-21:

  1. We will aim to get students abroad when we can, where we can, coordinating with relevant national agencies (such as UCML and the British Council), and being flexible about the standard minimum period abroad requirements.
  2. Our universities remain open to exchange students from our existing partner institutions, whenever we are able to be open (including for online learning and teaching provision).
  3. We will work together on a suite of joint virtual year abroad activities while students are unable to travel abroad, tailored towards study/teach/work abroad options, and each with additional language support.
  4. Each institution will implement a range of flexible alternative assessment provision, in line with each institution’s existing programme specifications, recognising the effects of disruption in the final degree calculation.

Working collaboratively across the sector to enable access to a range of core semi-immersive language-learning opportunities for students, the UCML YA SIG is coordinating a set of shared resources to be published here on this website in the coming month. These will prioritise linguistic progress in communication skills in the target language(s), and covering a core set of commonly-taught Modern Languages including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, where possible.

In addition, the UCML YA SIG is building a supplementary suite of Virtual Year Abroad activities tailored to different options. Activities currently being explored include:


  • Access to online courses at exchange partner institutions (in the target language) where these are available.
  • Virtual exchanges between students at exchange partner institutions where these are possible.


  • Virtual classroom meet-ups with teachers/students in schools, facilitated by the British Council where possible.
  • Training activities led by national agency partners, facilitated by the British Council where possible.


  • Masterclasses with translation/interpreting agencies or other placement providers to explore what could be done remotely.
  • Group projects for overseas employers, e.g. group translation project, global enterprise project, storyboarding ad campaign.

The co-Chairs are liaising regularly with the British Council to ensure a coordinated approach in line with the relevant national agencies, including the national directors of the Erasmus+ programme, connecting into Commission decisions around Erasmus+. Technical and legal/regulatory issues pertaining to fees, funding, insurance are also being integrated into the Virtual Year Abroad planning by the UCML YA SIG co-Chairs.

Programme Leads in Modern Languages at each University will find supporting guidance from the UCML Year Abroad SIG co-Chairs, Prof. Helen Abbott (Birmingham) and Prof. Jonathan Long (Durham), through regular mailings to the relevant UCML YA SIG list. For any queries relating to the Virtual Year Abroad programme currently in development, please contact UCML Administrative Assistant Dr James Illingworth in the first instance:

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