What being a University Student during a Pandemic has taught me
It’s no secret that everyone has suffered during the pandemic. The multiple lockdowns, rules and of course COVID itself has made life extremely difficult. University students have suffered as well – just like everyone else. However, students have additionally been utterly neglected and used as scapegoats.
Tuition and Accommodation Fees
A University Undergraduate degree in the UK costs £9,250 per year for UK and EU citizens. For international students, it costs between £10,000 – £30,000 per year (depending on the course and university). These figures quoted do not include accommodation costs.
University students have been made to pay the same amount of fees during the pandemic. Even though university teaching (apart from practical subjects such as medicine) has remained online. Universities promised the same value, care, and quality of education would remain the same.
Universities do need to be commended for their quick actions and efforts with their online teaching. However, there has unfortunately been a definite lack of support and a lack of quality of education.
Not only were students forced to pay tuition fees, but most university students had also already signed their accommodation contracts for this academic year before COVID was even a worry. This meant, that whether we chose to live in our booked accommodation or not, we were losing money.
Moreover, International students cannot be forgotten. Those that chose to come to their booked accommodation in the UK have been stuck here for months, unable to go home. Alternatively, those that chose to study in their home abroad have been forced to study late in the evenings or early in the mornings in order to participate in seminar times that are in a different time zone. It has been an incredibly difficult situation, and unfortunately, international students have been entirely forgotten.
The Problem with ‘Online Teaching’
Multiple university students have contacted me to tell me their ‘online teaching’ consisted of YouTube videos, powerpoints, and lectures that were meant to be 1 hour that turned into multiple hours if a lecturer got off-topic. Whilst it’s easy to say this claim is generalized, these are things that have happened to many students across the UK and they should be acknowledged.
What’s damaging about ‘online teaching’?
Firstly, in my own personal experience, there are definitely advantages and disadvantages to online teaching.
However, the disadvantages are unfortunately more than the advantages. For example, my seminars for two of my modules should have been two hours online, but because of COVID, they were cut to 1 hour. I was still expected to pay the same amount of money when I was getting half the contact and teaching hours.
Consequently, I was still expected to study for the same amount of hours, but then I didn’t have as much teaching time that I should had. This meant if I didn’t understand something or had to do more research, I had to work longer. So this academic year became one of the most stressful and time-consuming years of my life, in order to get all my work done.
Furthermore, a lot of your social contact with others in your seminars/lectures group was forced to be through social media or through posts on Teams. This meant that students lost out on socializing and communicating with their peers. Normally this socializing would happen walking to a seminar/lecture and meeting people outside or who you’re sat next to. Whilst it might not seem important to anyone other than a university student, it is an aspect that should be considered, because this year has made it incredibly difficult to make friends and meet other people.
Additionally, the internet/Teams/Zoom inevitably crashed during seminars. This meant the time it took for everyone to get back online was not made up, meaning you’re technically still getting less than what was promised. Whilst, this might not have happened every time, it still dramatically influences your motivation and concentration as well.
University students have been used as scapegoats as ‘the people that spread the virus’. It’s easy to blame and use university students as scapegoats as a result of the stereotypical nature of students – of partying and socializing. Even though there has definitely been a few cases of university students breaking social distancing rules, it is a minority. Therefore, it can realistically be very easily applied to other age groups such as 20+ or 30+.
It’s incredibly unfair to blame just one group of people for other peoples’ actions. I remember in December during the second lockdown I went food shopping, and heard the most awful conversation from a group of middle-aged locals in Exeter, complaining about university students and how ‘Covid is all their fault’. Ultimately, I think the thing is, people always want someone to blame, and university students were the perfect scapegoat.
Julian W. Tang’s ‘The Case for Vaccinating Young First’ article in ‘Politico’ notes that ideally both the young and the elderly would have been vaccinated at the same time in the UK. This would mean the elderly would be safe and the young could go back to school/university/work and help their parents and families remain COVID-free. However, due to the limited amount of vaccines purchased this meant it wasn’t possible, so only the elderly were vaccinated first.
However, it’s interesting to compare with Indonesia, who vaccinated their young and working people first. This is due to the fact there had been less trials of the vaccine on their over 60s. Maybe if the young and elderly people were vaccinated first, then students wouldn’t have missed out on their studies so much during this academic year. It is of course incredibly easy to speculate about this, but it definitely is food for thought.
Other people’s experiences
Jessica* from the University of Exeter
Jessica told me that as a result of the pandemic it became increasingly “difficult to meet essay deadlines only to then wait months for results.” Jessica additionally revealed to me that “because everything was online it’s been harder to learn and my grades have suffered”.
During the first term of University, we were placed into lockdown and advised to not go out. This meant that online teaching completely isolated and alienated us from the outside world. The only time I ever went outside during this period was food shopping, and even then I never spoke to anyone. Jessica says because of everything being online it has been incredibly difficult making friends, something that is typically associated with the university.
Jessica concluded that this academic year has been “the worse year in education ever, and I re-sat my A Levels without school”.
Charlie* from the University of Brighton
Charlie contacted me to tell me that because they were working from home they lacked motivation to do anything. I found it incredibly difficult when every time you completed a task off of your checklist that you were then landed with 10 more assignments or tasks to do.
Charlie additionally commented that the lecturers left them to their own devices “and were not as willing to help unlike if we were in person”. I, fortunately, did not have this experience, but it is worthwhile hearing other peoples’ experiences to really understand how bad this situation could have been.
Nicole* from the University of London in Paris
Nicole, a first-year, told me:
“I feel a bit robbed of my first-year experience. No freshers, very few onsite lessons…Makes you wonder what you’ve spent £9,250 on anyway!”
I do feel incredibly lucky that my whole first year of University was not ruined by COVID, because as Nicole says “first year of uni is a big turning point in our lives that has been ruined”.
Kerry* from the University of Hartford
Kerry, a first-year, told me that one of the things that helped them was “going outside to avoid being stuck in a room”, which when you spend most of your time in during online teaching, it can start to feel like a prison cell.
Elliot* from the Goldsmiths University
Elliot contacted me to say that:
“My mental health was at an all-time low, I haven’t met anyone it’s isolating”.
Jordan * from Cumbria University
I think Jordan has summed up this academic year perfectly: “it’s dreadful”.
*Please note all names have been changed to protect the identity of these individuals.