Are Universities the Pandemic’s Next Care Homes?

With Universities up and down the country opening their doors to new and returning students the big question being asked is “How will they cope?”

Nathan Reid- The University of Edinburgh

Some have suggested that they will become the new care homes, with lack of testing, support, and assistance from the government. Only time will tell but many students are worried about the laissez-faire approach to universities. 

Many universities have begun cutting back bursary packages for the poorest students, Edinburgh university had one of the biggest bursary packages in Scotland with the poorest students receiving £7,250 however this year that has been cut to £3,000. The university suggests that an average student would spend £10,000 per year living at Edinburgh. With a lack of jobs many of the poorest students will struggle to make ends meet and will suffer from severe hardships which the university is clearly unable to cope with. 

One of the biggest concerns about the reopening of universities concerns the provision of adequate testing. Ideally this would be focused on first year students in student halls where social distancing and isolation will prove difficult. However this has been vetoed by the Scottish Government; with them citing centralisation of testing as the main reason. Many students after hearing this feel that they have been thrown under the bus by the government. Allowing universities to test would rapidly quell any rise in cases as the WHO has recommended throughout the pandemic ‘Test, Test, Test!’

After the exam results fiasco, and now the abandonment of those students who reside in halls of residence, it is quite clear that the current UK government and devolved administrations are happy to let schools and universities suffer to consequences of their incompetence. 

Noah Keate- Warwick University

Term ended for Easter just in time at Warwick. Nearly everyone travelled home and 10 days later, the country was in lockdown. It was clear that my third term as a fresher wouldn’t take in place in person at all. This was saddening and disappointing. Though the anxiety of exams loomed ahead, the independence university offered was liberating and something I was getting used to. During the height of the pandemic, nobody would have any independence at all. 

I was extremely lucky. For my politics course, first year results don’t count towards the final degree classification. While end of year exams were important enter the second year of studies, they wouldn’t impact my university graduation certificate. Second and final year undergraduates at Warwick still had to take online exams, which led to controversy about how the university would ensure no cheating took place. 

My exams were simply cancelled. Instead, I submitted four essays online; this was always the case, regardless of the pandemic. The level of support from the university was limited. Although emails were regularly sent, it is obviously not the same as being in the classroom or asking for advice in a tutor’s office. Similarly, all first years were offered the opportunity to complete an Online Learning Certificate, which contained lots of common sense information.

The autumn term will involve a socially distanced university rather than no university at all. Warwick have blended online lectures with face-to-face seminars where possible. I think it is really important seminars take place in person. For some, it might be their only form of socialisation; seminars are where in-depth academic thinking thrives. I also hope lectures resume in-person from January. The appeal of keeping them online is understandable, but it’s far easier to concentrate in a lecture theatre looking at the academic, rather than starring at a computer screen at home all day.

With Universities up and down the country opening their doors to new and returning students the big question being asked is “How will they cope?”