It has been almost three years since Boris Johnson announced the COVID-19 lockdown and all our lives changed drastically. Three years is not only a significant chunk of time but also the average amount of time it takes to get a UK bachelor’s degree. Many students are graduating this year throughout the UK, but are they graduating with a feeling of nostalgia, or simply bleak disillusionment?
The past three years have not only been eclipsed by lockdowns and Covid but also by teaching strikes, the cost-of-living crisis and housing shortages. More than half a million undergraduates will graduate this summer, and all will have had a far from conventional university experienced tainted by a pandemic, strikes and recession.
For many graduating students, the university experience was not what they anticipated. There was no Freshers’ Week, no lecture theatres, no societies, socials or subject balls that many dreamed about before starting university.
Instead, they were met with patrolled halls of residence, online (often pre-recorded) lectures and no in person extra-curriculars. It is no wonder today’s students are feeling disillusioned and detached from their experience at university. But what did they expect from university? Even in spite of Covid, could students have foreseen the adverse reality of university during the past three years which many have labelled as unprecedented?
Regarding university during lockdown, the lack of social interaction and rigid rules led to many students feeling isolated and guilty when pushing the boundaries of lockdown in the pursuit to make friends or escape the dreary box rooms of many halls of residences. This feeling of seclusion is the antithesis of what the beginning of university is supposed to feel like.
One third-year student stated that: “I had built up this image of first year to be the most social and liberating year of my life, but in reality, I spent a lot of time alone and was scared to socialise just in case I was fined. I ended up leaving first year with very few ‘real’ friends as I feel as though I wasn’t given the opportunity to meet many people at all!”
Although the restrictions were imperative to stall the spread of Covid, many students were left feeling very isolated, and many felt that there was not sufficient pastoral support for loneliness and spiking mental health issues during this period.
Covid cohorts have not only experienced the pandemic, but also weeks upon weeks of strikes which are essential in the fight against the disparity of staff salaries and cuts on pensions but they have severely impacted students’ university experience. Students have not been able to fully engage with their degree content, leaving holes in the syllabus and justifying this by decreasing exam content which doesn’t touch on the fact that many students are still paying £9,250+ a year and have not received what they applied for.
A third-year law student told The Student:
“Although I ultimately understand the importance of strikes and I do not criticise the staff for taking these actions, the subsequent treatment towards students has been awful. As a law student I feel like there are significant gaps in my learning which concerns me for the future and is not what I expected from studying law.”
Many students have also felt a rift between them and their teaching staff as a result of the strikes which has further disillusioned students.
A third year history student stated:
“I was excited to build relationships with my tutors which were less formal than at school but unfortunately due to Covid and strikes I have had very detached relationships with my tutors and have even been guilt tripped by a few of them.”
The cost-of-living crisis has impacted almost everyone in the UK, and students are no exception. In Edinburgh, the added strain on student housing supply has led to many students paying ludicrous prices for a pokey student flat. Following the easing of lockdown restrictions, many students were excited to go to bars, gigs, sports games and travel with their recent freedom, but profuse amounts of students have had to scale back plans because they can no longer afford to pay for them.
Especially in cities such as London, Bristol and Edinburgh itself, where the cost of living is already above the national average, the crisis has further pushed students to not be able to budget for ‘normal’ student expenses.
A second-year student in Edinburgh noted:
“Realistically I can only budget going out once a week and even then, if it’s a big one I will have to makes cuts another way, I haven’t been able to have the student experience I expected and I had bigged up in my head as it is just too expensive to live that lifestyle”.
Why Not Wednesdays and Bongos Tuesdays (two Edinburgh club nights) might not be realistic for current students as they simply cannot afford it.
The financial stress and subsequent restrictions take away from the supposed laissez faire culture of student life as a another student explained:
“I didn’t expect to have to be this tight during university, I thought it would the most carefree years of my life but I feel the most worried about money I ever have as almost all of my loan goes on rent and have little left to do anything without going too much into my overdraft”.
It seems that many students feel deeply disillusioned with their university experience as a result of lockdowns, strikes or finances. Covid lockdowns have had a major impact on students’ social and academic experiences, as well as on their mental health.
But will this continue to affect this year’s graduates as they go into the world of work? With years of restricted social interaction, gaps of knowledge in their degree programs and large debts in this depressing economic climate it seems that this year’s cohort will be graduating with very different feelings about their university years than those in years before.
“Edinburgh University Graudates at McEwan Hall” by thisisedinburgh is licensed under CC BY 2.0.