COVID-19: The Global Pandemic That Doesn't Affect Students?

As we enter the new year with a third national lockdown, it feels much like déjà vu from last March. Really it leaves us asking, what has changed, if anything at all? What certainly hasn’t changed is the uncompromising situation university students across the country still find themselves in. There seems to be a heightened focus on the situation with schools, but university students continue to be left in the dark, with no guidance or support. Just because students are technically ‘adults’ does not mean we don’t require help, and the government's neglect of mental health leaves another deadly disease on the uprise too, but for some reason this never seems to be mentioned.

 

I’m sure some of us remember the pre-coronavirus period when we were told to attend lectures in person, rather than online because we learnt better in person. In fact, to the eyes of most lecturers, not attending university in person was extremely frowned upon. Fast forward to March 2020, and suddenly online learning is completely adequate. In fact, so much so that universities across the country see a reduction in our tuition fees completely unnecessary. Firstly, why are we paying the same amount when we are not getting the same thing? From the start of the new academic year in September 2020, I know I speak for myself and many others when I say that I have not been into university once. In fact, I have not had a face-to-face meeting, lecture or seminar since March 2020. How are we then expected to produce the same level of work, on top of the uncertainty we are already facing during these circumstances? 

 

And whilst we can't get an appropriate reduction of our fees,  students have also been given the burden of covering our accommodation’s rent. For many, financing rented accommodation at university is a struggle and ultimately it is obvious why the government waited until everyone had their accommodations sorted to announce that the majority of university would go ahead online. Worse is the thousands of houses and flats that were continued to be paid for, whilst most students in the UK returned home for the first national lockdown. Such problems have not just been overlooked by the government, but completely ignored. Moreover, universities have not helped either, as they only seem to act when their best interests are at play. 

 

Students have been let down not just financially, but also academically. On the eve of the third national lockdown, the government announced exams are cancelled for schools, but why are they not for university students? In fact, we were not mentioned once in Boris Johnson’s speech. Whilst schools and sixth forms have been completely disrupted, so have universities. Actually, schools have had periods of face-to-face learning whilst universities have not. Yet we are expected to complete our work to the same standard as normal. As students, we rely immensely on libraries for our research and the majority of our work, yet they are not open. Similarly, the resources available online are absolutely not comparable to the library and many key works are only available in person. Yet, as universities urge us not to come back, we are denied acces to the materials and resources we need, not just for first and second year essays, but final year dissertations.

 

International Students have also felt the brunt of the lack of support from universities and the government. International Student Madina from the University of Leeds shares her experiences and frustrations…

“This week started with the thoughts of dropping out or doing the whole year again… International students from my course have to pay £19,500 for tuition fees. For what? To be asked to stay in our home countries? I am not sure what I’m paying for at this point. I can’t use libraries or go the Union. Well, yes, international students pay double what British students pay, but it does not mean, that our sources are unlimited or we don’t care how much we spend. I want to know what I am paying for. I also asked my accommodation whether I will be refunded as I can’t come now and I don’t want to pay for the empty room when I’m in Uzbekistan. I have signed and supported all the circulating petitions, but I simply can not do anymore than this. I wish I could join the rent strike, however I am scared of losing my visa and my place at University. I wish there was more support for international students…I can’t just change and cancel my flights at the drop of a hat, not to mention the money it costs me to do this. £19,000 for an online discussion board, really? I want my money back.”

 

To really emphasise the level of distress amongst students, for the University of Leeds, there is an open letter going round as a campaign to offer more support to them including a safety net regarding our grades, mitigating circumstances and extensions. On social media there are pleas for help from students, sharing emotional messages on their currently taxing experience. Similarly, CutTheRentLDS has already over 4,000 signatures and the page was set up on the 18th of December. It is no surprise that mental health amongst student is rapidly declining. There is a complete lack of guidance from the government and the universities themselves. Our resources have been cut drastically, our quality of teaching from a lagging and jittery teams call has declined, our accommodations are hardly being used, but yet it somehow seems to be our problem and our fault. Whilst some lecturers have certainly gone above and beyond, there are definitely others who are not offering the same quality of help and this disparity, which is purely down to luck, is equally contributing to injustice. 

 

During this time, students would definitely appreciate a better support network to relieve some of our financial and academic worries that currently have been dismissed entirely.

 

Words By: Holly Hurt and Madina Latipova

Edited By: Yasmine Moro Virion