• Kia Fullerton

Why Coronavirus is the worst thing that can happen to University students

Coronavirus has impacted us all in one way or another. From a global economic crisis, where businesses of all sizes are struggling to survive - to hard-earning workers who are dependent on government support.

Having said that, the education system - universities in particular - is one of the sectors worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only are university students’ education disrupted as assignments and exams have been moved online. But many students cannot access the necessary resources and support needed to complete their degree.

Take for example, third-year students who are expected to produce a heavily researched dissertation by the end of their course. It is hard to imagine the thought process third-year students are going through, especially with the added uncertainty of Coronavirus constantly being on their minds.

Since the virus outbreak, there has been growing concerns on what this outcome would be for newcomers starting university in September and those expected to graduate between summer and the end of this year.

Through online petitions, including ‘Reimburse all students of this year’s fees due to strikes and COVID-19’. Many UK students are calling on the government to scrap tuition fees for the whole year. Besides Covid-19, students also faced the unfortunate circumstance of teacher strikes in November 2019, then a second wave of strikes in February this year.

The petition stated, “All students should be reimbursed of this year's tuition fees as universities are now online only due to COVID-19, with only power-points online for learning materials which is not worthy of up to £9,250”.

It added, “The extended strikes of this year have severely disrupted student-staff interaction and personalised help, with staff not replying to emails or available for meetings.”

Focus was also centered on there being no need to continue paying accommodation. As students have paid in advance for housing between £4,000-£8,000, thereby adding to their student debt.

Despite the petition reaching nearly 340,000 signatures, University Minister Michelle Donelan said:

“The Government is doing all it can to keep staff and students at our universities safe during this unprecedented situation, while mitigating the impact on people’s education. As Universities Minister, I understand that this is an extremely difficult time and I want to reassure you that we are putting students at the heart of all our work.”

Donelan expressed that the government is working with universities “to make sure all reasonable efforts are being made to enable students to continue their studies to the best of their abilities.” In addition to this, the university sector is preparing learning materials ready for the summer and autumn terms.

In relation to whether students should be granted refunds, Michelle Donelan argued “students ordinarily should not expect any fee refund if they are receiving adequate online learning and support”. However, Donelan did acknowledge that if institutions are unable to provide online tuition, then it would be unnecessary for students to be charged for the rest of the term.

Some universities across the UK, are receiving assistance from banking organisations to ensure students achieve the best grades. For instance, Santander UK has announced it will be providing £4.5million of funding to its 85 university partners across the UK to help combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

As Coronavirus poses a threat to students, universities and the local community as a whole. Santander has promised that the funding will assist universities who are on the front-line of carrying out medical research, providing additional protective equipment for NHS staff, as well as supporting students who are front-line volunteers at local NHS hospitals.

Furthermore, students that require financial support for living costs or resources will be supported with grants to help them adapt to the digital learning environment. This includes IT equipment and support, such as laptops and broadband connectivity which would normally be accessed on campus.

With the UK still in lockdown, many students have been stripped of their graduation ceremony, either postponed to the new year or totally cancelled. Despite the commitments the government has pledged to students, not all are feeling they are getting the support they need.

University of Cambridge, Film and Screen studies student Zac Ntim, 22, said, “I think the idea that we are supposed to be even remotely as productive during a global pandemic is crazy. Particularly in the case of third and fourth year students. How do I write a well-researched dissertation from my parents living room?”

Zac expressed that some students could be struggling with not having the necessary resources. “This pandemic has unveiled the glaring inequalities within the higher education system. Having lectures on Zoom, are these institutions proving every student with a laptop?”

Natalie Luke, 21, Journalism student at University of Roehampton said, “I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say most of us agree that we have really been abandoned this season.

“We were on strike for nearly six weeks before the virus already, so we had already missed on so much.”

Natalie who is in her final year at university, has made it clear she has not received any feedback for her dissertation and other assignments. Not only is she stressed about her course being altered but is worried about the safety of her parents who are key workers.

She added, “I have had to carry the worry and concern about them, as so many people in those sectors have contracted the virus.

“I think it was incredibly unfair for this semester to continue the way it did. I am almost certain that many students will not graduate with the degree classifications they once expect to.”

Karolina Molinska, 22, Master of Mathematics student at University of Durham said, “My biggest worry is that this recession will mean it’s going to be so much harder to find a job. And even harder to get a job that will pay as much, as I could’ve earned if not for this recession”.

Kaveesha Jethwa, 20, Crime and Investigative studies student at Anglia Ruskin University emphasised that “Not everyone has a good environment at home” and that it is unfair that her and other students are still being assessed during lockdown.

It is hard not to empathize with the struggles that university students are going through. Not only have they had their course modules and exams changed last minute, but it is worrying to hear that not many students are feeling motivated to complete their degree.

With the continuing support from the government and universities, we can only hope students still have a fighting chance to pass their year and complete their degree.

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