What is it like to be a student during the Covid pandemic?

I am a final-year student at the University of Reading. In this blog post, I will explain how Covid has impacted: academic experience, social life, fees, mental health, graduate jobs and how university life is more than just the academic content.

As I write this post, I’m currently living in my childhood bedroom, only allowed to leave the house for essential services or daily exercise. If someone had told me last year that this is where I would be today due to a global pandemic, I would have laughed and not believed them. Who would have known we would be where we are now in January 2021?

What is the university experience like?

Previously lectures would have been in a busy lecture theatre with 30-100 other students in it. They now look like this:

All lectures have been moved online to Microsoft Teams in first term, originally a ‘blended learning approach’ for 2nd term was promised, however a new more transmissible strain of Covid meant 2nd term was the same. As it stands, I have had 1 face-to-face lecture all year and it looks like that will be all year.

When going to the library you have to book it through an online system because of social distancing rules, regularly this gets booked up in the busy hours and you cannot access the services.

Once you are inside, arrows and sanitiser pumps are placed everywhere, and people are ensured to wear a mask and keep a 2 meter distance from people.

All exams during first and second term have been moved online. It is yet to be decided if summer exams will be taken online. However, with a whole years worth of lectures done online it seems fair that the summer exams should be as well.

Last year, students were given the ‘no detriment’ policy. This acts as a safety net to ensure students obtain at least their average grade so far. Put simply, the grade students currently have is the lowest they can achieve (1). As it stands this has not been provided for students this year.

Social life

Social life has come to a halt, social distancing has meant that nights to the students union or other events can no longer happen. During periods where we are not in lockdown, you can only socialise with the table you are sat on (maximum of 6 people) and are encouraged to not mix with people not in your household.

Normally, the university campus would be full of energy, you would always bump into people you knew, make friends and something was always going on. For the time being, the campus has become a very quiet place that is difficult to meet new people. It just isn’t the same place anymore in my eyes.

Having spent the first 2 years as a student and another year on placement in Reading, I feel that i’m one of the lucky ones really. I have had more than my fair share of nights out and cracking memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. However, most students have really missed out on a lot of this through no fault of their own.

Fees

For this third national lockdown, students are legally not allowed back into their accommodation unless they were already there. For students in accommodation owned by the university, they will be refunded for this. However, those in private accommodation are in a position where they are still paying for a place to live that they cannot go to.

There is also a lot of controversy over how universities are still charging the full £9,250 fees per year, despite getting the accessibility of an online course that would cost £3,096 per year from The Open University. It appears that many university students have been dissatisfied by their university experience this year as it has not been value for money.

Reading students have set up an instagram page to raise their concerns faced from this virus, for information to be passed onto the students union to pass though their issues to the universities executive board.

Mental health

Lockdown periods can be particularly isolating for many people, especially for those who are living on their own. It has been important is to keep in contact and check-in with friends and people you may not have heard from in a while, this may be over phone call, or even just a text message. With a mental health crisis going on at the moment, it is more important than ever to be a good friend.

If you are struggling with your own mental health during this period, here is a link to services that could help.

Graduate jobs

Normally, the university holds multiple career events each year, where potential employers come in, explain what their company does and allow for students to ask questions and make valuable contacts. Universities have done what they can, by holding online services and access to their university experiences. Unfortunately, this will not be able to provide same experience that these events normally have to offer, in person.

University is more than just the academic material

A lot of the academic material taught at university doesn’t actually get used in the working world. University is more than the classes we take or the grades we get. It’s a huge opportunity for personal growth, experimentation and to learn the skills we need for the rest of our lives.

Before Covid, university has helped myself to:

  • Expand my social circle to outside of where I have grown up
  • Interact with people from other backgrounds, cultures and viewpoints
  • Manage my attendance and time spent on work
  • Conduct research without guidance
  • Learn self-reliance by:
    • Making my own food
    • Paying bills
    • Doing laundry
    • Getting a job
    • Budgeting money

I have had a great time at uni, an experience that I would fully recommend.

The bigger picture

I have tried my best to explain the situation for what it is, not rant. Many people, myself included, have lost loved ones from this pandemic. It is clear for all students why we are taking these sacrifices. With the vaccination process taking place in the UK, there is hope for normality to come back.

However, there is a strong feeling amongst students across the UK that they have been thrown under the bus. Without government intervention to change this, it will be hard to achieve. Click here to sign an online petition to reduce university student tuition fees.

Hopefully, in the summer term we are able to have some more normality and maybe even a graduation ceremony at some point in the future.