Not many students will be able to say that they started off their university experience in the middle of a global pandemic. But the cohort of 2020 will forever be able to use their first year as an interesting anecdote at Christmas parties.
I was terrified of starting university, as I am not the most social person, and essentially only being able to communicate with my flatmates made this even worse. What if I don’t like them or we are completely different? I can’t go out and meet other people. Making friends from my course via Zoom will be impossible! Despite my anxieties, I was lucky enough to get on well with my flatmates and find a few friends on my course. However, others have not been so fortunate. Whether they just don’t gel well with the people that they live with or haven’t been able to attend a single in-person lesson, some students have ended up alone at university.
Whilst universities have laboured to create events where students can mix, they can only do so much. Speaking with someone over Zoom is not the same as in-person. The awkward pauses are intensified and the erratic internet creates an impossible atmosphere to socialise in. With students’ mental health declining rapidly, it raises the question as to why the government hasn’t reopened universities for teaching but have allowed pubs and restaurants to create more havoc. It was unsurprising to see the streets of London mobbed with drunk adults not abiding by social distancing rules on April 12th. What is more surprising to me is that the government thinks it is more dangerous that I sit in a well ventilated classroom with 10 other students properly socially distanced and still wearing masks. I know that everyone uses the argument that the economy is essential for the future but there won’t be a future if all of the politicians and economists received an inadequate education because the government refused to provide in-person classes.
It feels like daylight robbery to be paying £9,250 to be able to sit at home and watch lectures as if they are a BBC 1 documentary. Whilst many of the scientific subjects have been given the go ahead to restart lab lessons and other practical assignments, the Arts and Humanities subjects have once again been neglected by the prioritisation of STEM. Over the course of my first year, I have had only six in-person sessions and that would be considered a lot. Some students have never met their tutors or their supervisors and have only had support through online meetings. This is inadequate for the stress that university life puts on students.
Overall, students have been some of the biggest losers in the pandemic. Being blamed by right-wing news outlets for coronavirus outbreaks despite there being evidence against this, missing out on essential years of education and life experiences and, the government’s ignorance to student mental health, the list of losses for students is never-ending. The announcements made by the government regarding education would often evade mentioning universities, leaving students in the dark about their futures. This neglect causes unnecessary anxiety and could have been avoided by the government having some competency.
Image courtesy of Nick Morrison.