Right now, it is the summer of 2021. 99% of students are off from their studies at university or college whether it be transitioning from one establishment to another or even another course to another.
But whilst the UK has seen primary and secondary schools continue physically in “bubbles” to avoid the spreading of Covid, one group in the education industry that have been forgotten are university students such as myself.
Over the past eighteen months, we have been thrown into turmoil and uncertainty with physical lessons ditched for classes on Zoom and Microsoft Teams. That, when combined with students paying out for accommodation they don’t need, the situation has become a farce for many students. A large number of international students studied from home over the past academic year due to travel restrictions and the lack of need to be on campus in the first place.
As lockdowns were implemented in late 2020, a huge emphasis was placed on the fact that children at primary and secondary level were suffering from the lack of interactions with their fellow classmates, which in turn took a detrimental toll on their mental health as a result.
However, during all of this, the one group that remained immune from those types of articles were university and college students. There wasn’t a push of media attention placed onto us during the November lockdown nor the most recent one we have faced. Because we were told that as we were older, we should be able to look after ourselves more.
It’s all well saying that can be the case but when we’re cosied up in our houses because our lessons are timetabled to be online instead of physically on campus like life was like pre-Covid, how are we meant to as strong, if not more resilient than, those who are younger than us?
Mental health affects us all. It’s affected me as much as it affected my mum and other members of my family. This idea that we needed to “prioritise” the return of school kids into primary and secondary education is quite simply an insult to those like myself who are studying degrees amongst other types of education.
I can count on one hand the number of times I travelled to campus during the whole of the 2020/21 academic year. Whereas schools were allowed to function physically without any major issues apart from bubbles being a thing.
I remember coming back from a week away in Norfolk in September to see school kids going to school physically in the flesh and I’ll be the first to admit, I got jealous, and it annoyed me that I was set to do my learning for my degree over the coming year online through Microsoft Teams whilst those younger than me were able to get actual physical learning. Even if it was being done with a face mask on, it’s still being in the physical presence of an educator.
There is now an emphasis that university students now need to be double vaccinated in order to study physically on campus. This policy is a joke, and the whole process behind the vaccine rollout for us young people, in general, has been comedic, to say the least.
Whilst it has been a successful rollout, for many young people including myself, it’s not been fantastic as such to wait our turns whilst others have flat out rejected the opportunity to get vaccinated and thus bring back a sense of normality after a turbulent eighteen months.
However, it seems that for some, the new normal of online learning is here to stay and some want to make the most of it. Just recently, Manchester University decided to carry on with online learning with no reduction in tuition costs made as a result. That in itself got a massive backlash, however, the university soon said that it has been a misunderstanding in why over 6000 people decided to sign a petition against the plans and that the university were looking forward to returning physically as soon as possible.
Just recently, it was revealed in a survey that a third of university students in the UK have had less than ten physical lectures since Autumn 2020. That is a travesty and more should have been done to get students into campus by any means that protected them and their lecturers in the same way that primary and secondary schools were able to operate during the past academic year.
Many students have missed out on Freshers Week, graduation events among other events that make the university experience worth it on all accounts. The fact that university open days have been done online as well just furthers the case that the university experience in this country over the past eighteen months is one that many aren’t happy to have lived and experienced, nor have they had the chance to properly experience it.
A question needs to be asked to every student. Have you learned anything if much at all during the last academic year through online learning? Because I have not, and I know so many others feel the same.
If online learning is to remain in place for the foreseeable future, then it has to be written into law by any means necessary that tuition is cheaper for all. At no point during the pandemic have I thought that I was getting value for money from my tuition. At no point did I ever think learning through Microsoft Teams was worth the £9,250 a year that I pay.
Questions have to be asked and answers need to be given by those at the top in the government and even those at the top of education systems that we have in place.
Education in itself needs reforms widely in the UK as mental health cases in young people rise staggeringly, youth crime continues to rise alongside the continuing rise in youth unemployment, more so once furlough ends for good by the government. Potentially this is an opportunity to make the biggest educational reforms in the UK for a lifetime to the places that truly need it.
We have a chance to make incredible changes to education in this country. But if we throw these ideas away, it could be another generation we fail, and it could almost be repeated in another lifetime from now. Now is the chance to learn from our mistakes and look at what has worked, what is still working well and what isn’t working anymore.