By Harriet Metcalfe
As if getting a degree wasn’t hard enough – try doing it during a global pandemic.
As a second year student not being in halls, I moved into my accommodation earlier than many freshers did, avoiding the ‘mass movement’ term that was being thrown around a lot. By the time freshers week (if we could even call it that this year) rolled around, cases in the city had soared. Every headline I read made it out to be the fault of the students. The student ‘culture’ had caused these outbreaks! We weren’t following the rules and guidelines! Why were we there in the first place? Funnily enough, I was asking the same question.
We were encouraged to come to university. We were told campuses would be made Covid-secure and safe enough for a mixture of online and in-person teaching. We were told coming to campus was in our best interests, as this ‘blended’ approach to learning would help our grades. But when we got to campus, in-person teaching was almost non-existent unless necessary. My degree suddenly shifted online. With outbreaks happening in accommodation sites, those in halls were confined to their tiny rooms – unable to make many friends outside the small flat. We’ve all been paying £9,250 (plus rent and food) for videos and zoom calls.
I hope you can understand, then, just why most of us are a little bit angry at the minute.
There was enough evidence to prove that the ‘mass movement’ of students travelling to university would cause outbreaks. It was pretty evident that online teaching would be the only way forward for many courses, like mine. Why, oh why then, did we come to campus in the first place?
Yep. Money. That’s the one.
As someone who put in a lot of effort just trying to convince my first-year uni halls to wave my final payment (since I wouldn’t even be living in the flat or using the facilities) – it’s been so encouraging to see students around the country standing up to the lack of support for students. Campaigns like 9K4WHAT and rent strikes are proving to be effective, with the University of Manchester most notably giving students a 30% cut in rent for the first half of the academic year, after their factitious handling of the pandemic. In many ways, it makes me feel proud to be a student right now. We’re standing up to say enough is enough, and we deserve better for the substantial amount of money we’re paying. This ‘student culture’ that some say is causing outbreaks, is actually a small minority. Most people I personally know are following the rules – the blaming of ‘student culture’ just feels like scapegoating.
I’m generally an optimistic person, so I’ve tried to make the best of online learning; being able to make my own coffee at home for seminars is always nice, and I’ve found my confidence has actually increased a little (somehow talking on zoom isn’t as daunting as talking in real life). As secretary for the English Society, we’ve been hosting regular virtual socials to encourage everyone to meet some new people – and whilst we were worried for a time that people wouldn’t think the membership fee was worth it without ‘normal’ student social events, we’ve actually had around eighty people sign up. A sense of community has never been more necessary at university. But it is difficult. Some days a lot more than others.
This is supposed to be the time of my life where I get to experience things. And I’m not just talking the stereotypical nightclubs and bars – but god I hate to sound pretentious like this – life. My twenties are a mere matter of months away and I’m beginning to realise all the things I haven’t done and now can’t do before twenty because of corona. So much for a pre-20 bucket list, then.
Personally, I mostly found the first lockdown okay. Whilst university hadn’t officially started, it gave me the time to read (a lot) and play Animal Crossing (…a lot). But this second time round, things have been more difficult. Where zoom calls were a novelty to run quiz nights on, they’ve become tiresome and draining. As an introvert, it’s mentally a lot to handle, seeing so many faces on a screen at once and not really having the opportunity to have a ‘one on one’ conversation with someone. Admittedly there have been times where I’ve checked to see how many people were at an event, and based my decision to go off of that. Any more than fifteen to twenty and I know I’m going to struggle.
But I know I am ridiculously lucky. I’m safe, I have an amazing support network around me and whilst I do have asthma, it’s not severe enough to make me really at-risk. I have projects to keep me busy for days, and a to-be-read list that’ll see me right through the New Year. Things could be a lot worse. I just have to keep telling myself to make the best of it; ‘it is what it is’. When it comes to being a student though, sometimes that doesn’t feel like enough. I really hope this is a turning point for how students are viewed and treated, especially in politics and in the media. We’re people too… Sometimes the headlines seem to forget that.
You can read more of Harriet’s pieces HERE