According to a recent survey, more than one in five students applying for undergraduate places are considering deferring for a year if their university will not be operating as it usually would. I think it’s pretty obvious that the “new normal” will extend to universities but by how much and for how long is open for debate.
If you’re thinking of deferring, you need to be sure you have all the facts at your disposal so you can make the decision that is right for you. Universities have been working around the clock to put special measures in place, meaning that your university experience will be minimally compromised if you take your place this year. In fact, you could benefit by taking your place now.
With that in mind, here are three reasons why you should not defer your place this year.
The impact of Covid-19 has already prompted employers to cut entry-level jobs by 23 per cent, with the number of internships and placements to fall by 40 per cent. According to EY, the UK economy will not recover to its Q4 2019 size until 2023 – the year in which many students from this year’s intake will graduate.
Allowing for this, taking your place at university now could be a good investment. By studying and acquiring new skills while potential employers recover from the pandemic, you could graduate in a stronger position at a time when the job market picks up again. You could even play a significant role in supporting the UK’s economic recovery.
At the University of Central Lancashire we are seeing increased applicant interest in health-related courses and that’s not surprising with the NHS being placed under the spotlight like never before. In the months and years ahead there is going to be a huge demand for students to train as doctors, dentists, nurses and a full range of other allied health professions, with universities playing a central role in this provision.
And if you have an entrepreneurial mind, you could also be well placed to establish your own business as the economy recovers and consumer confidence is restored. University is the ideal place to acquire the necessary skills, support and contacts to do this.
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Quality of education
Understandably, some students are concerned that they will have to pay full tuition fees for an online-only education if they begin their course in the 2020-21 academic year.
Universities have received mixed feedback on the remote learning services that they have delivered under lockdown but let’s not forget that many were forced to shift all of their operations online in a matter of weeks. Since then, universities across the UK have continued to invest significant resources to enhance their digital capabilities, offering more flexibility and, in a number of cases, enhancing the provision of teaching and learning.
Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not been perfect, but the progress made to develop an online curriculum in such a short period of time has been a great achievement and there will be many more innovations in this area to come.
It’s also likely that some face-to-face learning will be possible. Many academics are already planning to teach online and in person, through interactive seminars and smaller lecture groups, where it is safe to do so.
Depending on your course, this means that you could benefit from the development of advanced online tools and physical interaction with your lecturers, course mates and university facilities.
If you do not have access to elearning facilities or reliable wifi, contact your university to see if they can support you. Many can offer bursaries and scholarships to ensure that your learning experience is no different from that of other students.
Ultimately, a degree that has been achieved through online or blended learning will have the same value in the job market as one that has been achieved through face-to-face learning alone. And the reality is that when the world returns to normal, students will be in a fortunate position if they are already on their way to achieving their qualifications.
Making friends and experiencing a new social life is a key part of the university experience for most students.
Welcome Week will look different this year, but even if the lockdown remains in place for the start of your degree, you will still have the opportunity to meet new people, socialise with your course mates and join societies that match your interests.
Many universities have established private social media groups for 2020 applicants so you can get to know people before you start your course. A huge range of virtual events are planned which will guarantee that students have social interaction with one another irrespective of what the social distancing arrangements are at the time.
We are among a number of universities considering how we can make Welcome Week work in a socially distanced way within communities of halls of residence and specific localities within the university.
Again, it’s likely that the lockdown will ease further to enable face-to-face interaction with your peers but by taking advantage of the opportunities to socialise online now, you can make connections that will be strengthened when you are able to fully interact in person.
Making a decision
If you’re still undecided about whether to take your place at university this year, consider your alternatives. If you can think of a better use of your time in the next 12 months, deferring could be the right option for you.
However, by starting your degree this year, you have a great opportunity to develop your skills and employability while placing yourself in a prime position to take advantage of the post-coronavirus job market.