13 Oct 2021 In Blog By Sajda Mughal
As a student, I cannot wait to experience university life again
As a student heading into my final year imminently, I can’t help but reminisce on the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped my student experience, from the first year up until now.
I was finishing my first year of university when the pandemic had hit the UK, and since then lectures have been replaced with online tutorials, seminars replaced with the lag of Microsoft Teams, and nights out replaced by texting and the occasional two-person walks. I don’t know what having a full, ‘normal’ university year is like.
It’s not all memes and minor inconveniences like bad internet. Students across the UK have been put at multiple disadvantages—being forced to choose between isolating at home or at university, separated from friends or family respectively, can be quite stressful.
Having to cope with large workloads, especially for students doing a dissertation, on top of the pandemic can make students feel on edge. Coupled with the lack of job prospects, it can be hard for students to feel optimistic over the last year and a half.
This has taken a toll on my mental health, and I know I’m not alone. Messaging friends includes apologies every time, and the brief message of ‘things have been so busy!’ is exclaimed whilst in bed at 12pm. Multitudes of university students have seen their mental health deteriorate—almost seventy-five percent of students reported a decline in mental health.
It’s hard to not see university as a tainted experience. Despite this, the need for social distancing is still considerable, and cannot be ignored. If we follow the necessary measures taken to reduce COVID-19, it’s possible that students will be able to experience a full university year, without the fear of isolation or sickness.
Measures previously taken by universities include masks inside buildings (and during seminars, where students sit over a metre away from each other), frequent hand sanitiser stations, and requiring student ID to book spaces at the library. Public spaces were limited to six people indoors, and students had the option to join classes online rather than in-person.
These are just my experiences—as a student with underlying conditions, I have had options for when I felt more unsafe and have been lucky enough to be double vaccinated before the end of the last academic year. I know that other students with underlying conditions do not share my viewpoint, and measures must also be taken to ensure that every vulnerable student feels protected.
Every student deserves to feel protected, and those of us that are luckier should not discount the more vulnerable—if we do not continue to take precautions and follow guidelines, vulnerable students will be at a physical disadvantage and unable to return to in-person classes.
I know some students are not as lucky, even if they are not vulnerable, as shown by the protests from Manchester students.
In particular, BAME students have suffered under both coronavirus and systemic racism, with discrimination against Asian students increasing alongside COVID-19 cases, making BAME students feel unsafe for their physical health and their safety, especially in predominately White campuses.
Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds also suffer regardless of medical vulnerability, being forced to continue working part-time whilst studying during the pandemic or go on furlough, not making enough money on the scheme to support themselves. Many students have taken up extra jobs in key worker positions.
As we enter another academic year, however, I cannot help but feel optimistic. With the majority of UK adults vaccinated, and over a year for universities to implement safety measures, it seems that a sense of structure is exactly what is necessary after the recent relaxing of COVID regulations.
The hope for the near future includes campuses in which all students can feel safe, no matter how vulnerable or cautious they are. The more that COVID-19 becomes a condition to live with rather than a temporary illness, the more that following COVID guidelines becomes important in order for all of us to live with this disease.
One change that could be made to incorporate vulnerable students are online-only courses for subjects which do not require in-person practical classes, such as arts courses, at a reduced fee. COVID-19 has shown that the pre-existing barriers for disabled and clinically vulnerable students are arbitrary, with many paying large student fees for universities that do not accommodate them.
We need to protect our students—we can start by educating all students on racist stereotypes created during COVID-19. BAME students deserve to feel safe on campus, both from coronavirus and from violence or harm from other students. With the right support from staff and from the government, both the mental health and job prospects of students can become more optimistic as the restrictions lift.
JAN Trust is committed to protecting BAME students—we have a long history of protecting BAME groups suffering from poor mental health, because of COVID-19, systemic racism, or any other factor.
For both BAME and disabled students, the JAN Trust currently runs the Say No to Hate Crime group. The group aims to protect those suffering from inequality and violent discrimination by listening to people to have suffered from hate crimes, taking their advice in order to build a hopeful future.