Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Having now lived to tell the tale of three lockdowns, I feel adequately equipped to discuss what it is like to be a university student studying during a pandemic. Inspired by a Facebook rant I posted a few weeks ago, I will discuss my views regarding the unrealistic expectations of university students and my stance on matters regarding the no detriment policy, refunds and support currently being offered by the university.
At the beginning of the pandemic, like the majority of other students in my position, I felt overwhelmed by the seemingly spontaneous choice of the university to close a week before the Easter break. I had been watching the news reports and knew the situation was spreading, yet naively believed it would come to nothing substantial. I remember the giddy feeling trapped inside me as one single email forced my world to concave around me and the looming sense of numbness that followed and continues to follow even now almost one year since lockdowns became second nature.
Over a year ago ‘lockdown‘ was an alien concept, but it was to be an occurrence that would alter our lives over the next year and our perspectives for perhaps the rest of our lifetimes.
University work was arguably more difficult back then. Lecturers were unprepared, and knew little of what to do under the circumstances of an up and coming pandemic. After all, I doubt they teach you that in training. The university’s response was to award a no detriment policy for semester two, to ensure marking was fair and concise, in line with the negative impact the distress and panic had caused to both students and lecturers alike. Back then they recognised the struggles of students and pushed towards a plan in our favour.
Now, just under a year after that decision was announced, students are in the same situation. We are still in the depths of a pandemic. We are still in lockdown. We are still battling with the same traumas of everyday life, except now we lack the same level of hope and resilience that was carried by all during the first lockdown. Except now we have been urged to stay at home with little warning, surrounded by conditions not equipped for the stresses and strains of the virtual academic world. Except now we receive little more than a special COVID-19 special considerations form to soak up the blood, sweat and tears of our efforts.
Universities simply cannot expect us to perform at the same standard with a pandemic in the background, as well as a decreased quality of teaching, alongside the reduction of social activities to help implement that work-life balance that is talked about in society so often. While assignments may have been adapted and adjusted for the pandemic’s continuation, the students have not. The constant change in routine has personally caused me to feel waves of demotivation and sadness, and looking at results obtained so far has also had a knock-on effect towards my grades. How can GCSE and A-Level students have their exams cancelled because it is recognised that online learning is not enough to support their learning, whereas we have been forced to carry on learning this way since the pandemic started, with little concession for our ongoing assignments and exams? We cannot simply complete our work late because we did not feel motivated or cannot work through the conditions of our new term-time addresses – they must still be submitted.
Although I think no detriment would decrease the value of my degree, and I can understand why it would be unreasonable to demand this in many ways, extensions and special considerations forms are simply not enough. No matter how much more frequently they are accepted, they are not enough to deal with the continuing standard of work we are expected to produce under marking schemes that do not provide concession for the current situation.
I admire the lecturers for their ability to carry on and adapt in a situation that is undoubtedly stressful for them too, with children to home-school and an environment that perhaps nowhere near parallels the atmosphere university presents. However, like other adults in the working world, they are paid for their efforts. On the other hand, I watch politicians debate whether we should be refunded for our accommodation and have university tuition fees reduced to acknowledge the drop in standard. Instead, I am greeted with a tennis match batting back and forth between ministers placing the responsibility on individual institutions and institutions directing student complaints towards government ministers, while students continue to pay £9,250 per year for their education. Many come from backgrounds where the money spent on their abandoned university accommodation would be better spent on essentials back at the home they are now being forced to reside in.
To top it off news reporters focus on how students are supposedly spreading the virus and causing the pandemic to escalate, as this is the kind of news that gets readers’ attention and ultimately gives them business. Very rarely do I hear sympathy towards our struggling situation. This is simply because the stereotypes placed upon us makes it seem like we are only causing a fuss because we cannot go to the nightclubs and bars as part of our university experience.
I could go on and on about how unfair this all is, but this is a reality that cannot change simply because we want it to. We can only do the best we can in the moment but that will be nowhere near what we are capable of in normal circumstances. This is so disheartening considering the years of sacrifice and hard work that has been poured into obtaining A levels and GCSEs. The mounting expectation of students needs to change, and it needs to change now.