Lockdown One Year On: How The Pandemic Has Affected Students In The UK
| Last updated
Helena, 18, moved from the US to study Global Health at King's College in London. She lives in student accommodation in the capital. But her first year has not gone to plan.
"I only into my student accommodation in January due to travel restrictions, as my family live in the US," she said.
"When I imagined university, I looked at other people's experiences on vlogs and Instagram, with lots of nights outs and restaurants and heading to lectures. Given that the whole time I've been at university we've been under lockdown, I've mostly been stuck in my room.
"I imagined it would be super easy to make friends with all the events going on, but now there's not much really going on. My university accommodation is really central and it's annoying going past so many cool places which are all shut."
It's been a year since the country was first plunged in to lockdown restrictions by the government - and university students have been some of the hardest hit. No real0life lectures, and often locked in their accommodation, freshers were forced to spend their first term indoors, many unable to return to their families.
t's not just how students study that's been affected, the pandemic has also changed what they study too.
The heroic efforts of the NHS through the last year have meant that more people have been inspired to get involved. In fact, according to UCAS data, nursing applications alone are up by a third on last year, with more than 60,000 applications for UK courses.
Since March 2020, aside from a few weeks during the summer, restaurants, pubs and other establishments have been closed. Some have had the option to open for takeaway services, or to sit outside while socially distanced, but the costs associated with making them 'Covid-safe' have meant many have been forced to remain closed.
Clubs and music venues - one of the things you take into account when choosing a city to study in - have been closed since the very start of lockdown, meaning a huge slice of the cultural offering of many cities has simply stopped existing.
Helena explained: "I've found lockdown difficult to deal with. Before lockdown I used to go out quite a bit and spend a lot of time with my friends, but lockdown has made that difficult as well as making new friends at university."
And it's not just Helena's social life that has suffered during lockdown.
She said: "In terms of studying, I find it difficult to concentrate in lectures when you're in a home environment and you've got so many distractions (whoever you live with, social media). I've definitely found it harder to motivate myself to work and actually get things done, and I know a lot of my friends are feeling the same way.
"My university has been mostly very supportive," Helena said. "They've made it easy for you to get deadlines extended if you're struggling with lockdown, as well as opening more study spaces for those studying on campus.
"My personal tutor has been supportive with navigating me towards mental health support."
Like many, Helena has had to focus on her mental health more so than before.
She added: "I wish there were a few more events aimed at relaxing and de-stressing and being able to cope in lockdown. I also wish maybe they would provide a bit more support about where to go if you're struggling with your mental health as I know a lot of people are finding it difficult.
"It's also harder for international students living abroad to get long term therapy which seems rather unfair."
So is it fair that universities continue to charge full price for what is essentially, by all standards, a reduced service?
Will*, 18, from Cheshire is studying Medicine at University of Leeds. All his learning so far has been remote, and while the lectures are still technically going ahead, his thoughts echo what many students have said - that it's nowhere near as engaging or interactive to watch a lecture on a screen.
He told LADbible: "I don't think it's fair to expect us to pay full fees. I can't use the medical school, most study spaces, some libraries and classrooms.
"I haven't had a single in-person session so at the moment I'm paying a lot of money to sit in my room and endlessly stare at a screen for hours everyday. With my course I'm lucky to have a lot of 'live' contact time with tutors but for some people on other courses they have around six pre-recorded videos to watch every week and maybe one seminar that's live.
"After speaking to a lot of my friends some of these contact hours also aren't very useful, so I do feel lucky to have as much timetabled time as I do. I also think I should have access to some form of rebate in terms of rent.
"The halls experience I've had this year has not been the same as it should have been and access to facilities (e.g. the gym and common spaces) has been very limited.
"I also pay more to live close to campus because I thought I would be on and off it a lot and this year I haven't needed to be, so I paid more to live closer to campus under the premise that I would need to be going on to campus for no reason."
Petitions and social media would suggest that Will is not alone in thinking that students shouldn't be paying the normal tuition fees. English students are mainly set at the higher end of the cap - £9,250 per year. International student tuition fees vary, but mainly start at about £10,000 per year - a lot of money for Zoom lectures, PowerPoint presentations and a room in student halls.
A Department for Education spokesperson told LADbible: "This has been a difficult time for students, and we are committed to getting all students back into university as soon as the public health situation allows.
"We have been clear that universities should maintain the quality and quantity of tuition, and ensure it is accessible to all students, regardless of their background, and the Office for Students is monitoring online teaching to ensure this is the case.
"If students have concerns, there is a process in place. They should first raise their concerns with their university. If their concerns remain unresolved, students at providers in England or Wales can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to consider their complaint."
And while universities are autonomous in their setting of fees and processing of refunds, some universities have made arrangements with their students in order to treat them as fairly as possible.
For example, Lancaster University confirmed to LADbible that it gave three good-will gesture payments to student towards their accommodation costs, if they were unable to access it due to government coronavirus restrictions.
However, out of the 20 universities contacted, none of them had any plans to reduce tuition fees for the academic year.
However, some good has come from the struggles that have been thrown at students and universities.
Mental health has been highlighted, with the DfE and Office for Students (OfS) launching an online mental health platform called Student Space, with £15 million being allocated towards student mental health next year, too.
Another potential positive is that there may be more scope for students to choose a distance learning option in future.
And despite the struggles current students have faced, new applicants are not put off - UCAS data shows applications to study in 2021 are actually up by almost 50,000 on last year. This could be in part down to the reduction in offers of apprenticeships, but it still proves that despite the struggles of the pandemic, young people continue to be inspired and to remain hopeful for their futures.
*We have changed the names of some contributors to keep them anonymous.