The coronavirus has already had a significant impact on students. When universities closed back in March, student life changed pretty much instantaneously. While restaurants, bars and nightclubs began to shut their doors for the foreseeable future, many students packed their suitcases and headed home for an early ‘summer holiday’. The original thought was that they would be able to return to university in September and live their life as they had done before. However, we know now that this will sadly not be the case and normality is unlikely to resume for some time. Here are some of the most significant ways in which COVID-19 will impact students next semester.
A mix of online and virtual learning
On the 19th of May, The University of Cambridge announced that all of their lectures would be online only until the summer of 2021. Since then, other universities have responded, with Nottingham Trent University suggesting that they will be taking a ‘blended’ approach to learning, involving “a mixture of on-campus, in-class teaching alongside online learning.”
So, what will this new way of learning realistically look like for students returning to university in September? Well, if the current plans go ahead, students will be spending a lot more time completing their work from home, rather than on campus. Universities are not going entirely online as they did at the start of the pandemic, but instead, you will end up learning in small seminar-type groups, in replace of large lecture halls. The ‘blended’ approach to university study will mean that you still have the support of your tutors, but you may not have as much in-person contact time with them as you did before.
No freshers week
Freshers week is arguably one of the most memorable weeks for anyone at university. It’s the time where you can have fun and let your hair down before the stress of university work hits. Yet, the newest cohort are likely not to have a freshers week at all. That’s right, no nights out, no freshers fair and no free pizza everywhere you turn. The likelihood of freshers week being cancelled is a possible contributing factor to the growing number of sixth form students who are planning to defer their university place a year if campuses don’t open as usual, a figure which currently stands at above 20%.
The abandonment of freshers week will have a more significant impact on students than what one might expect. While some might see the week as an opportunity to get drunk seven nights in a row, freshers week is much more than that. It’s a time to make friendships, deal with your newfound independence and familiarise yourself with your surroundings. Although no details of online freshers events have been released yet, the experience for students will just not be the same.
In an attempt to tackle the issue of socialising at university with the coronavirus still at play, leaders have suggested that students might have to stay in ‘protective bubbles’. Essentially, this means that accommodations might end up placing students from the same courses together to limit the risk of spreading the virus. Although doing so would make practical sense, the potential impact of these ‘bubbles’ on the social lives of new students would be damaging. Students would have much smaller social circles; before, a student may have different groups of friends from their accommodation, course and other societies and clubs. However, if the ‘social bubbles’ were put in place, these would be limited.
What if you don’t get on with the people you are assigned halls with? Where does this leave second and third-year students who are not living in university accommodation? The answers to these questions are currently unclear, but we should hopefully know more in the months leading up to September.
A completely different experience…
The next academic year will undoubtedly be completely different from the last; there are so many aspects of student life that will just not be the same with the planned restrictions in check. Even though some lockdown measures will be eased by the time September rolls around, all activities will probably still have to be done at a social distance. For example, students will be able to go to the pub (thank God), but they will have to go in small groups, sat at least 2m from other drinkers.
However, it must be remembered that all of these possible measures are subject to infection rates. If the UK experiences a second peak, students may not return to university this side of January. Yet, we must remain positive. Although university is likely to look very different from what it did six months earlier, students will eventually adapt to a new normality.