COVID- 19 has resulted in many sudden changes to the way that we live, in the UK and around the world. Many university students have had their studies disrupted and moved online. Whilst many have spoken out on social media, we here at TCS Network believe that it is important to consider individual experiences and use our platform to voice those who otherwise might not be heard. (Please note that some have chosen to remain anonymous or anonymise some details).
The UK is currently in a lockdown ordered by the Government, which was put in place on March 24th 2020. This lockdown ensures restricted movement – instructing people that they are not allowed to leave their home without a “reasonable excuse.” This was life-changing in some cases for students studying in the UK – but what about British students abroad?
Benni is a student at the University of Manchester, studying BA Arabic and French. She told us at TCS about her experience of being stuck in Jordan.
“It did seem as if a lot of people wouldn’t be covered to come back home if they didn’t have a flight already in place; there was no way that the university was going to insure you.
Some people had to take 24-hourly trips all around the world just to get back. Our university was literally just saying, ‘do what you want.’ You do want direction in a situation where you don’t know what to do! We were going to this language institute with people from Cambridge, people from Exeter – who all got flown home, because their universities were like, ‘come home now!'”
Benni was able to find a way back home due to her sister, who looked on the Foreign and Commonwealth office’s website and found her a way to come home.
She said: “I was lucky to be able to come home because of my mother’s insurance, but without that – I would still be there.”
This is just one of many stories of British students and citizens alike, stranded in different countries. Although we are in unprecedented times, students should not be left in the lurch, especially as our universities have a duty of care.
Samara has a story that is closer to home. She attends the University of East London, studying Media and Advertising, and is in her first year.
She said: “My course was moved online on 16th March but they have cancelled any further assignments. The university has kept in contact to a great extent – a lot of our projects are carried out online, so the university gave access to online resources that are usually costly.
However, I believe that my fees should be reduced as I have only completed one term and online lectures have not always been consistent – sometimes, they are replaced with 15-minute catch ups.”
The University of East London has described itself as taking a “key role in supporting the NHS”, by offering accommodation and other means of support to healthcare workers at the NHS Nightingale hospital.
Mojoyin Olarinde is at Aston University, studying Politics with International Relations as an Undergraduate.
She said: “I appreciate the university’s effort to stay in touch with students. However, this is only effective if we are receiving new or relevant information. To have the same thing said multiple times in the course of 6 or 7 emails can feel overwhelming.”
Charlotte is studying for her MSc in Digital Marketing in Scotland. Her education moved online “very quickly,” with half of her teaching hours being online by mid March.
She told TCS Network: “I think this was influenced by the fact that our university had one of the first confirmed cases in Scotland.
My course teaching staff have been brilliant at keeping in touch with us, we’ve been having extra sessions on Google Hangouts on top of our classes and they’ve been easily contactable via email/social media throughout. You can tell they’re really under pressure though, and they’re being worked to the bone trying to support everyone.
The university itself have been communicating via email but they’ve been quite vague and unclear in their stance a lot of the time, and only started clarifying when put under pressure via petitions and the like.
However, it’s been great to see that the university have set up additional hardship funds for students in need, including those who aren’t eligible for the support from Scottish finance.”
Educational institutions are incredibly stretched in formulating a response to the global pandemic, but students cannot be forgotten in the race back to normality. Universities have always been a pillar of a modern and democratic society and our universities are institutions we take great pride in, in the UK. These are the institutions that have trained so many of those same key workers that we see working daily, in order to keep society functioning.
In fact, a team within the Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group at Oxford University have set out to create a vaccine against coronavirus and are beginning human trials; funded by the UK government. This shows the vital importance of higher education, research and the brilliant minds that are formed because of it. Whilst attending to students’ very real needs may be difficult for universities to do at the moment, it must be one of their priorities.