“Nothing really surprised me. I knew it was gonna be this way – which is why I wasn’t really looking forward to coming back if I’m being honest.”
2020 is a year of firsts. Our first national lockdown. The first time that many of us won’t be able to see our families for an extended period of time. The first year that university students study in a post COVID-19 world. So, what’s changed? Given that – as of this moment – tuition fees haven’t budged, how have universities adapted to the pandemic? Are students getting value for money? And how has student mental health been affected by lockdown?
Students from Imperial College London (A), The University of Nottingham (B) and the University of Cambridge (C) were gracious enough to lend me their time for an interview. For the purposes of this article, they requested to be made anonymous.
How has student life changed since the pandemic? Is there anything that surprised you in particular?
A: It definitely has changed. There’s less spontaneous social interaction, so you have to organise meetups with smaller social groups. Larger gatherings don’t exist like they used to. On student mental health – it’s easier to feel isolated. As to what surprised me, spending Friday and Saturday nights in was odd. Last year there was always something going on, whether it was going out or chilling in our social space.
B: It’s pretty much changed completely. Uni life for me was more about the social side and the societies and stuff. Since that’s basically non existent now, uni feels a lot different. Nothing really surprised me. I knew it was gonna be this way – which is why I wasn’t really looking forward to coming back if I’m being honest.
C: Student life has changed a lot, but there’s nothing that is necessarily surprising. Before coming back we were told that most teaching would occur online. We were led to believe that we would have in-person supervisions, but they haven’t gone ahead. To be honest that’s perfectly understandable given the state of the pandemic.
There has been outcry online over tuition fees and the quality of remote teaching. Do you feel that you are getting the same quality of education as you were last year? If not, do you think there should be a reduction in tuition fees during the pandemic?
A: The lectures are running as well as they could I guess. The teaching is similar. But it’s less engaging on the whole because there’s less face-to-face interaction. Due to the discrepancy in standards, logically there should be a reduction in fees. Then again, I understand the perspective of universities. They still have staff and researchers to pay. And it’s not like the courses have massively dropped in terms of content.
B: It’s not at all the same as it was last year – in-person teaching is so much better. It’s easier to zone out remotely and the level of class participation isn’t the same. I think they should do something about tuition fees but I’m not optimistic about that happening really.
C: I think there should be a reduction in tuition fees. We aren’t getting the full university experience full stop. A lot of lecturers and supervisors are working as hard as they can, but the remote teaching isn’t equivalent to the amount we’re paying I think.
How has the social aspect of university changed? How have different university societies coped with the pandemic?
A: The majority of societies have gone kaput. A lot of virtual events have been set up in lieu of physical interaction. It sort of defeats the purpose for a lot of them – especially the sporting ones. The social element is lost.
B: A lot of stuff has moved online. A lot of societies can’t function. Not meeting in person makes it extremely hard to do anything.
C: This is probably the most drastic change. Within the college system you’re restricted to living with five to ten people. You aren’t really allowed to see other people in your college nor friends from outside your college. Meeting new people has become impossible.
How have you been keeping occupied?
A: My course keeps me relatively occupied. I’ve still got a lot of course content. I find myself doing a lot of solitary activities like sketching and practising on my keyboard. When I can I organise social-distanced meetups with others, but with the upcoming restrictions this will no longer be a thing.
B: Reading. To be fair, I’ve been doing a lot more reading than I have in previous years. I’ve been keeping busy with uni work. Board games are also how we spend a lot of our time. And movie-nights.
C: As ever, there’s lots and lot of work to do. I’m in my final year so there’s lots of papers to be juggling at the same time. The college has stressed to us that we should have time to ourselves, so we try to keep a balance. We have movie nights and play games.
Overall, how do you think your institution has handled its response to the virus?
A: Relatively well, in the sense that there’s been limited outbreaks compared to other universities. University policy is prone to change quite often however, which is concerning to myself and others.
B: I think it’s kind of risky to have kept in-person teaching. There’s still some seminars running. But they’re doing the best they can really. I don’t think tuition fees are being addressed adequately.
C: We’re really lucky at Cambridge to have weekly testing, which is a great reassurance. Measures have been drastic though. I know that freshers in my college – 227 people – were immediately put into isolation for two weeks. It was probably quite jarring for them. Overall, it’s in the interest of public health and I don’t berate what the university is doing.
Do you have any advice to students who are struggling with their mental health at the moment?
A: Keep active. Go for walks. Get outside. Make sure you keep in contact with people. I really recommend that you pick up some solitary hobbies to pass the time.
B: Just keep talking. Keep yourself busy. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in your rooms overthinking. Go our for your government-mandated exercise and get involved with online socials as much as you can.
C: Seek help. Talk to a GP or counsellor. Especially now.
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