#Coronavirus has changed university education for students across the UK; from navigating courses online and uncertainty around study abroad programs, to temporarily moving back home, students share their stories on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Government’s decision to close schools, colleges and universities…
Holly Hill, studying LLB Law and Spanish at University of Bristol
You are hoping to start your year abroad in September. Have you been informed of any changes due to Coronavirus?
We have been informed that it is uncertain, and we are now just waiting on our host institutions to give their stance on whether it will still be plausible or not for us to go ahead with the Erasmus programme.
If this is not possible, we may have the opportunity to transfer to do the year abroad in a different location or we may have to skip the year abroad altogether and go straight to final year. We have all been told to choose final year optional units now just in case it will not go ahead.
I think if it got to the point where my year abroad would be jeopardised, I would try and negotiate with my university (University of Bristol) about the possibility of having a year off from university to work full time and coming back to start my year abroad in September 2021 and then do the final year back in Bristol, as I believe that the year abroad is such a fundamental part of my course, and I would not want to sacrifice it if there was a way around it.
How has Coronavirus changed your university education?
My learning experience has changed drastically. Everything is still up in the air about end of year assessments; we know they will be online, but we have not yet been told of the format these will take.
The idea of 24-hour exams or timed assessments have been suggested, but this is still uncertain due to time zone differences for international students etc. For Spanish oral assessments it may be that we’ll have to conduct these via Skype, but again, this has not yet been confirmed. We will supposedly be informed of assessment plans by the 30th March 2020.
How have the changes due to Coronavirus affected your university experience?
I think that it is mainly the uncertainty that is worrying me at the moment. If I knew what the end result was going to be, I could plan around it, for instance concerning the year abroad and assessments. Additionally, looking at graduate prospects, I am in the process of applying for legal work experience schemes that will potentially offer you a graduate role commencing in 2022, however, if it happens to be that either my course becomes a 3-year course without a year abroad or becomes a 4-year course with a ‘gap year’ in the middle (effectively a 5-year course), I will need to plan for this accordingly.
One of the principal reasons for choosing a language degree for many people is the year abroad and it helps develop your language skills to an enormous degree. I would hate to finish my language degree still not feeling comfortable in speaking the language fluently and I think that the year abroad is a huge part in working towards getting to that point.
George, 1stYear Student at Falmouth University
The Coronavirus pandemic has not affected where I live too much. The main issue is getting food from the supermarket, as people are panic buying. I went into my local shop and they had no fresh meat. Although it has helped me find alternative foods, including vegan options!
However, because of the pandemic, I had no option but to leave university and move back home in case of stricter travel and the possibility of lockdown, which has now happened.
How are you coping during Coronavirus ‘lockdown’?
Overall, I feel that I have been coping very well. The main thing to remember is that it is under control and the restrictions in place will prevent the virus from spreading more than it has. The memes and stories being shared on social media about the virus have been very uplifting and helpful for me. From joking about the value of toilet roll to using an ironing board as a DJ booth with the cat freaking out, there are ways to destress and relax about the virus.
The best thing to cope with the pandemic is to keep talking and keep busy. My Lecturer gave the best advice: to keep a social circle, so you do not feel alone. In terms of keeping busy, even though Coronavirus has caused more restrictions, life still goes on. For me, this means getting university work done and by doing this, I can find an escape from thinking about the virus.
How has Coronarvirus changed university education?
As my course is studio-based, closure of the university (Falmouth) has really changed how the course is taught and led. The university has stopped face-to-face teaching, and we are now using Microsoft Teams to interact with staff and our learning teams. The modules themselves have been altered too, for example making the groupwork-based module optional.
They have allowed students to go back home for the rest of the semester, but students have been allowed to stay in halls if they wish to do so.
How has your university supported you during this time?
I feel that the university initially created more anxiety by making us wait for any news when other universities made announcements days (if not a week) before the closures. I know this could not be helped, as they had to assess and sort out everything – from helping international students get home, to the running of the courses, but it was very stressful.
Considering the short space of time given to make these changes, they have done a tremendous job of keeping people safe and secure. And hopefully, things will go back to normal in September for my second year.
Emma Howes, Joint Honours Student Queen Mary University of London
How has the pandemic changed university education for you?
University life has changed at a very fast pace since the pandemic hit. I’d had a lot of classes cancelled prior to it, due to the strikes, and unfortunately the ones due to follow got cancelled for understandable reasons. Put it this way, my first year at university has not played out the way in which I expected it to!
How has your university supported you during this period?
All of my lectures have been uploaded as Powerpoints online, and my course is now requiring much more independent study, which can be challenging, but I’m getting there!
My lecturers have been quite forgiving and have given us an extension on our assessments and I am aware that some courses have been told that their assessments are now just pass/fail due to the circumstances.
How are you adapting to all the changes and keeping your mental health up?
Adapting to isolation has been odd, to say the least. At first, it felt like a long weekend and quite chilled, but it became apparent pretty quickly that this was more of a long-term arrangement.
I have found that trying to follow some sort of schedule has definitely helped me to maintain sanity. I try to make sure that I exercise every day, spend some time in the fresh air, and keep up with my friends (Houseparty is a great app to do it!!).
In terms of school work, I am fortunate enough to have been able to set up a desk in a spare room, meaning that I can separate my bedroom and where I work, which has allowed me to be more productive and less distracted – I’d recommend trying to distance your place of study and relaxation if you can!
For now, I am just taking things day by day, trying to make the most out of the situation without being too hard on myself (aka, the cookies are allowed in this stressful time) and looking forward to future BBQs with my friends when we’re finally allowed out again!
Amy-Louise Fox, Students’ Union President at Cardiff Metropolitan University
How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected where you live?
Although I work and studied at Cardiff Met, during my time both as a student and a sabbatical officer, I have lived at home in Rhondda Cynon Taff. Life is a little quieter here than in the city, but it’s still visibly noticeable how the pandemic has affected day to day life. I live near a few schools, which are suddenly much quieter and the general day to day life of the town is slowing down, as people have isolated.
Within myself and my role, I have been focussing on the changes to university student life as a result of COVID-19 since early February – so I’ve been keeping up to date with the Government guidance since then. I felt that this has helped me to work with the University on ensuring that the right decisions are being made for both the student experience and their wellbeing.
I’m now also working from home as both our campuses are closed – this has taken some time to adjust to but I’m enjoying it so far (it helps that I get to spend more time with my dog, Pepsi!) But the thing that I am finding hardest is not being able to see many people, like my friends or family – but that’s what Facetime is for!
How has the Coronavirus pandemic made you feel?
It’s been difficult to adjust to all the new changes so quickly, and worrying about friends and family, as well as the mental health of the students at Cardiff Met, has made me feel a little anxious. I know this is a normal reaction in this situation, and this is a difficult time for everyone right now. It’s important that we all come together (virtually, of course) to support one another at a time like this.
How are you looking after your mental wellbeing during this time?
Video chat! Lots and lots of video chat! I am someone who loves to talk and spend time around other people. It’s how I’ve always coped during a stressful time. I’ve also been reading and binge- watching TV too. But everyone has their different ways of coping – I’ve loved seeing so much positivity on social media on how to cope during this difficult time. It’s also interesting to see what everyone else is getting up to, now that they’re unable to go about their daily lives as they usually would.
How has university changed during the Coronavirus pandemic?
The university has been looking to make as many changes as possible to help benefit the students, which has been great to see!
I also have lots of communication with key members of staff, which has been great when students have come to me needing clarity or guidance on issues that they have been experiencing.
The university has been very helpful during this difficult time. Assessments have been changed to ensure that students are able to complete then no matter where they are – which is so important right now! There have also been some changes to the criteria for mitigating circumstances which will benefit the students who need it.
I think that the key to all of this is communication – it’s not an easy situation for anyone right now and both the staff and the students have been really understanding of one another!
We’ve also heard from our online community about how the closure of universities in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic has affected them.