Coronavirus has shaken us all, it’s impacted everyone in some way and I’ve been no exception. I go to Cardiff University, and the changes I’ve seen on campus have been vast. We never anticipated that we would have been affected on the scale that we have. It seems to have all come at once, and many students feel worried about their futures.
Whether it is remote teaching, graduation uncertainty, financial worries, or lack of compliance to guidelines and residence situations, university students have a multitude of issues to face during this uncertain time.
Most students in the UK live off their student loans, but many need jobs on top to keep themselves going. Coronavirus has meant the places where students usually work: pubs, cafés, shops and restaurants, have all been closed, leaving students jobless and hopeless.
On top of my studies, I am self-employed as a nail technician. However, the studio where I work has been closed for the foreseeable future, so I don’t know when my next paycheck will come in. We cannot work, nor go to university, however we’re still expected to pay rent and tuition fees. Surely this isn’t fair?
There has been no news of student loan repayments being put on hold for already-graduated students (unless they stop working), like there has been in the USA. Nor has there been any discussion of stopping or reducing our tuition fees, as we are not getting the education that we paid for. It’s a very difficult situation to be in, as we are aware this is no fault of the university’s, but it is also not our fault – so why should we have to fork out cash for an education that we are not being given?
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It is evident that most students have fled their university towns and student accommodation to move back home, often to their parents’ homes.
However, we often forget that some students don’t have this same opportunity: some don’t have supportive parents or family ties; some cannot afford to do so; some people’s parents do not have the capacity to take them back in, the list could go on.
It can be upsetting seeing posts on social media from those who have returned home and are regarding isolation as a luxurious time, when it’s likely that we all know someone who is still at university and cannot return home.
I have friends who were studying abroad in the US when the coronavirus crisis began and who have found this possibly the toughest time of all. When speaking to them, I heard their utter devastation over having to return home and the confusion over whether their studies will be impacted.
A friend of mine was studying in the US this year and has been forced to return home to the UK where she must continue her studies online, however, the lecture content will be delivered according to the US time-zone, so she is expected to attend her lectures at inconvenient times.
At Cardiff University, and indeed many other universities in the UK, University and College Union strikes have been prevalent for the past month, before coronavirus took over. This has meant that some students have had less than a month’s worth of lectures this term.
Although we are aware that the current crisis is no fault of our universities, we cannot be expected to pay vast amounts of money for teaching that we aren’t actually receiving. Yes, lecturers are recording themselves speaking and sending it over to us, but is this really what we paid for? What about all the other learning components like personal tutor meetings and library access? Perhaps the most frustrating thing of all is the uncertainty over our exams: will they be online? Will they even go ahead?
Quite frankly, paying £9,000 a year plus rent and living costs to receive one term’s worth of education is appalling, and students aren’t taking this lightly. Many students have already been making complaints and requesting financial compensation for the strike action that affected their studies and exams.
While many students have found this situation highly stressful, others have adopted a “can’t be bothered” approach. We are fed up with how our university experience has been delivered, but can you blame us? I worry that students will give up on this year of university, putting them further behind and making university a more stressful and negative environment for many.
Mental health is already a prominent issue within the student community and student support services are often full, have ridiculous waiting lists and have to close during exam season.
With coronavirus comes isolation, and with isolation comes an increasing threat of mental illness. Whether it is stress, loneliness or any other component, students are highly vulnerable, and I worry that this pandemic will leave the mental health of the student population worse than it was before. This is yet another aspect of education that we pay for, and although the university has offered phone and online support, for many it is not enough.
Coronavirus continues to impact everyone in society, students know they are not alone. The fight to gain compensation for our loss of studies will likely be a hard one, and I expect the exam uncertainty to continue over the next few weeks. All we want is clear and decisive information, so we can prepare ourselves in advance and gain the best results possible in this time of turmoil.