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2020-09-10

What University Life will be like with Covid-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has already caused widespread, unprecedented changes to our lives, particularly for those students whose schools and colleges were closed and exams cancelled during the nationwide lockdown. Unfortunately, for those students arriving at universities across the nation this term, university life will look dramatically different compared to previous years. Naturally, anyone heading to university might be feeling apprehensive or anxious about how this ‘new normal’ will impact their experience and education. So, we’ve gathered the key facts you need to know about universities’ plans to return to academic life after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social bubbles

Unfortunately, this isn’t the latest nickname for a fresher’s foam party. As of September 14th 2020, social gatherings of six or more people (inside or outdoors) are banned to curb the spread of coronavirus. So, not only will this apply to education on campus, with students sitting together in groups of maximum six people, but other aspects of student life - bars, pubs, clubs and social events. Hopefully, these restrictions will ease at some point during the first term as society adapts to the ever-evolving COVID-19 situation.

Further, as outlined by Universities UK (UUK), it is expected that students will live and study in ‘bubbles’ of people from the same course to diminish the risk of coronavirus transmission. These bubbles would likely share the same timetable to limit the exposure to other bubbles.

Non-contact sports are currently allowed, with other forms of sports to be permitted in the future. Although the number of people allowed to play at any one time will likely be lower than usual, it might be an excellent way to help you meet new people safely. According to Universities UK, 87% of universities are planning to have a large amount of in-person sports, wellbeing and fitness available for the coming year. Plus, the BUCS organisation has confirmed that inter-university sport is expected to resume in January/February 2021.

Freshers week

The first week of university, otherwise known as fresher’s week, is usually filled with events to get students mingling and socialising with one another. This year, fresher’s week will be limited to virtual events that you can attend without leaving your accommodation. Many student unions were planning to host sociallly distanced and outdoor events that are limited in size and focused on new students only during freshers week.  However, with the new 6 person limit, how many of these events take place will be up in the air.

Accommodation 

As mentioned above, some universities are evaluating whether to separate halls based on course subjects to restrict interaction between student bubbles. Regardless, it’s likely that university accommodation will be less crowded than before, partly due to lower number of students wishing to attend university this year, but also due to an expected drop in international students thanks to Brexit. Most universities also plan to clean shared areas in halls (such as kitchens, bathrooms, etc.) more regularly. Other universities are planning to host fewer students in each house and have organised extra accommodation to be available with local landlords and housing companies.

Online teaching

As it stands, you should expect that most of your lectures will be held online, but smaller groups of students might be able to meet in socially distanced tutorials and seminars. However, this will differ between institutions. For example, the University of Cambridge announced that they will hold all lectures online for the entirety of the 2020-21 academic year. In contrast, the University of Manchester is hoping that its lectures will only be online during the autumn term. Alternatively, the University of Bolton is planning to install airport-style walk through temperature scanners at every building entrance and enforce face mask usage throughout.

If you’re shielding or self-isolating, most universities will have planned to accommodate this by enabling streamed campus-based learning for those uncomfortable going to campus. For those that do go to campus, you can expect several measures to make sure it’s as safe as possible. For example, one-way systems, staggered lesson times, distancing signs, mandatory face coverings rules and social distancing measures in cafes and shops.

The ability to educate online will differ between courses, so we recommend checking with your university’s department to determine what their plans are for your specific course. Plus, as the pandemic progresses, expect that these plans may change throughout the academic year. They may become stricter or be lifted in response to further national or localised outbreaks and cases. So, keep an eye on your university’s website for any changes in rules or guidelines.

Student loans and fees

Student loans aren’t affected by COVID-19, so if you’ve applied for student finance, this should still be processed as normal. If your course is starting later than usual, you’ll receive your student loan after you are registered on the course. If you end up moving back to your family’s home for the majority of the term, your maintenance loan could be reassessed at the ‘home’ rate for the entire term. However, this will not affect students from Scotland, whose living cost loans aren’t based on location. Check out the below links for more details:

Sadly, tuition fees won’t be changing for the coming year, regardless of whether your course is delivered online for a proportion (or indeed all) of the year. Universities are working hard to provide the same level of teaching experience to compensate for online learning, and they’re dedicated to delivering high-quality teaching regardless of the delivery method. It remains to be seen whether or not they will succeed. 

Fortunately, the Department for Education has stated that if universities are “unable to facilitate adequate online tuition, then it would be unacceptable for students to be charged for any additional terms”. If you want to pursue a refund, you would need to complain directly to your university.

Deferring 

It may come as a surprise that the number of UK students planning to defer their course is roughly the same as last year, pre-pandemic (around 4%), according to UCAS. A campaign from UUK, #2020MADEUS, is showcasing how universities are supporting students and continuing to provide quality education, safely. It’s a testament to the difficult few months that university applicants have experienced while celebrating their resilience, potential and determination to succeed. 

Similarly, university institutions are urging applicants to recognise the challenges ahead, but move forward with their studies. Ultimately, the decision and your circumstances are individual, and only you can make the decision that’s right for you. If you defer your place or choose not to go, you could be facing challenging economic and uncertain times with restrictions on what you can do at home. Going to university offers the opportunity to escape those challenges and progress with your degree, social life and future career. Plus, you’re there for three or four years, so you’ll still have plenty of time to experience university life! We advise you not to base your decision on whether you enjoy online learning or not, as the situation may not last the year and most universities are implementing a dual approach to learning, with a mixture of online and face-to-face education. 

While the pandemic has changed university life for at least the autumn term of 2020-21, hopefully, it will look progressively more normal throughout the academic year. It may be challenging, but we hope you move forward resiliently with your studies. Each university will be developing its own pandemic roadmaps, so be sure to keep up-to-date with the latest news available and ask your department about the changes they’re making to keep students safe. 

Best of luck for the year ahead!

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© 2020 Sam Loyd. All rights reserved.