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University Challenged: 3 Nottingham Students on the Impact of COVID on Their Studies

11 April 21 words: Emily Casey, Aidan Hall and Faith Pring
illustrations: Katie Smallwood

Often overlooked during the past twelve months, and being excluded entirely from some of Boris Johnson’s key COVID briefings, university students all over the country have been left feeling anxious, frustrated and forgotten during the pandemic. We talk to three Nottingham students to find out how they’ve coped during the past year…

Faith Pring (NTU)
Back in March of 2020, my life was plunged into chaos, much like everyone else’s, and all the plans I had for the remainder of the year evaporated. I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree, in the midst of writing my dissertation and preparing for my final exams, all of which were suddenly up in the air. Adapting to a new environment of online learning, online exams and new technology while maintaining enough composure to complete my assessments was a challenge, and doing everything from home only exacerbated the emotions I was feeling about suddenly not knowing what I was doing or what was happening. 

For me, the hardest part was never finishing university properly. My graduation ceremony was postponed to this summer, and I never got the chance to say goodbye to my friends. One day we were all in class together, the next we were spread out across the country. I was never the most extroverted person, but suddenly relying on my unstable internet connection at home for all communication and interaction had a huge negative impact on my mental health. Like everyone else, I was adapting to a new normal of feeling cut off, my only company being my family and my thoughts. I felt more fragile than ever, just the mention of my cancelled graduation made me burst into tears because it was something I had been working towards for almost four years, and suddenly that celebration was gone. 

Now, I’m halfway through my Master’s which is much more practical than my undergraduate degree, making adapting to online learning a lot tougher. Some classes have been easier to replicate online, but it’s no surprise that there is a rather large gap where the social element of university life used to be. The support from our university lecturers has been great however, and I’ve felt more able to cope with the changes thrown my way. While I’m still holding out hope that I’ll be able to graduate this summer, I’m grateful that I, and the people around me, have stayed safe throughout the pandemic.

Emily Casey (UoN)
As a twenty-year-old white female student when the pandemic began, I was very lucky to be in the demographic group least likely to be badly affected by coronavirus. However, trying to get a degree when your teaching comes to an abrupt halt, you have to move back home where your WiFi can hardly muster up a Google search, and churning out four print editions as the Editor-in-Chief of the uni magazine, has not been easy. 

But I have been one of the lucky ones and I do want to share my gratitude for this. I study English which means that, although teaching has been different, a lot of the resources have been made available online and I can still buy my core reading material. My lecturers have also gone above and beyond to ensure that we have the same quality of teaching and, if anything, they’ve actually offered even more support than usual. 

My lecturers have also gone above and beyond...if anything, they’ve actually offered even more support than usual

Running the uni magazine, Impact, has been challenging – our team hasn’t been allowed to meet, and trying to encourage enthusiasm for online socials has been much harder than just going to the pub. An upside has been that everyone has had more time, meaning we’ve been able to produce much more online content. I also think it’s been a welcome extracurricular activity that can still be done from your bedroom, when so many others have had to stop entirely.

My student experience has been affected by COVID, but it has also taught me so much, and for that, I am grateful. 

Aidan Hall (UoN)
When students were advised to travel home in March 2020, I was just over half-way through my first year at university. As I walked out of my halls of residence for the final time, I remember noting the brutal juxtaposition between the nation’s impending isolation, and the fact I had, not two weeks ago, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of students in a sweaty Nottingham nightclub. 

Summer came and went, and as the time to go back to university fast approached, I couldn’t help but think I felt like I was going into first year again. I had hardly had a first year due to the university union strikes and the pandemic, and up to that point I had sat only two formal in-person exams. Summer exams were either entirely cancelled or made into poorly designed take-home exams that departments had rushed to create. Thus, going into second year I was no wiser than I was in going into first year about university exam and coursework procedure. Moreover, I was moving into an entirely new environment: a student house in a suburb of Nottingham I had only visited once before. 

Quickly, however, I was a number of months into my second year and, bar the near-police-state conditions in Nottingham’s student area, Lenton, the online university experience was much like I had expected. From what I could see, the switch to online learning only widened the educational inequality between affluent and low-income students. The former group, I witnessed, were able to buy printers, faster laptops, multiple monitors, etc, for their rooms. Affluent students also had the funds to pay for larger, more comfortable housing – no small factor when you are only meant to leave the house once a day for essential journeys. I couldn’t help but think that the pandemic had strengthened the case for more measures to be taken to democratise higher education. 

Nevertheless, looking back on the past twelve months, I cannot help but feel grateful for my friends and family who have always been at my side, just as I have been at theirs. 

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