Many university students across the UK have felt helpless because of the coronavirus pandemic. Although “normal life” as we know it had stopped for a couple of months as a result of the lockdown, academic pressure was still and is still very much prevalent. Universities have a duty of care to their students. With many students continuing their studies either at home or on campus, the support from student services needs to be maximised.
During the first lockdown, it had been contended that tuition fees should be lowered, as £9,250 a year is too high for online learning. For example, University of Manchester students accused the university of “putting profits before students”. With the second lockdown, universities encouraged their students to stay on campus and not retrieve back to their homes, in attempt to stop the spread of the virus. However, this advice caused a lot of uproar amongst students. For instance, this led to protests occurring at the University of Manchester. Students pulled down fences that were put up in place by the university to control the spread of the virus. To many students the fences felt more like an oppressive mechanism to physically restrict them, especially since they were erected without warning.
The students were right to protest. An article published by the guardian professed that university students felt “bullied, tricked and imprisoned.” The lack of support during the coronavirus outbreak had already created, or in some cases, stimulated the crippling mental health issues which can arise from academic pressure. Greta Anderson discussed how there’s a “growing crisis amongst young adults struggling with mental health problems, including suicidal ideation, anxiety and depression related to the pandemic.” In 2015 and 2016, it was recorded that over 15,000 first-year students in the UK reported that they had a mental health problem, compared to approximately 3,000 in 2006. This shocking comparison highlights how stress levels have escalated. Now because of coronavirus, optimism that mental health rates will improve is implausible.
England is currently in a third lockdown. The coronavirus cases seem to be getting worse, and more individuals are desperate for further support. In spite of this, the government still seem to neglect university students. Prime Minister Boris Johnson reimposed a national lockdown to begin on the 5th January 2021; there was yet again no mention of government plans to assist university students. Students have been instructed not to return to university accommodation, but are still being expected to pay for accommodation, both university run, and privately owned. However, according to the new government guidance, students who are undertaking training and study for certain courses should return to face-to-face learning, as planned. The lack of concern shown by the government towards university students is infuriating. All students want is to be heard, but right now it feels as though no one is listening.
As a university student myself, I have found it extremely hard to adjust to the changes of lockdown, particularly due to the large workload provided by my university. Often at times I feel quite neglected and helpless. My regular routine of attending face-to-face lectures and seminars, along with actually living on campus has completed shifted; the only thing unchanged is the feeling of being overwhelmed by stress. However, I am now doing my best to maintain a positive mindset by prioritising my mental health.
Despite the large mortality rates all around the world due to the virus, my university along with many others in the UK still have high expectations. This is in relation to students’ productivity levels and the quality of their work.
Do you think universities should do more to show their empathy towards students? If yes, then how?